How Multiple Sclerosis Affects Your Body

About one million other people in the United States have Multiple Sclerosis (per Healthline), a disease that attacks the nerve fibers of the central nervous system and the fatty insulation around it (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). Inflammation results causing nerve cells to die and electrical messages in the brain to change, giving rise to varied effects.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society refers to the first episode of neurologic symptoms as Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS). To be formally diagnosed with MS, symptoms must last at least 24 hours. Additionally, most MS patients have brain lesions discovered during an MRI.

Ninety percent of those diagnosed with this chronic illness have relapsing-remitting MS. Neurological symptoms can linger for days or weeks before you go into remission. However, without treatment, relapse symptoms worsen with each episode (per Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Those that progress to a point where symptoms stabilize but never go into remission have secondary progressive MS. Primary-progressive MS mainly affects movement and is diagnosed in those whose symptoms gradually get worse without relapse. The mildest form of MS is Benign MS, which gets diagnosed after you have the disease for at least 15 years without worsening symptoms, according to Johns Hopkins University.

MS hug

MyMSTeam reports that over half of those with MS experience MS hug. Dr. Mary Alissa Willis, associate program director of the Mellen Center for MS at the Cleveland Clinic, explains to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society that, when asked for a description, "Some people describe a boa constrictor-type squeezing that is almost constant. Other people describe a band of burning pain that comes and goes. The pressure can be so intense at times that taking a deep breath is difficult."

The pain and tightness associated with MS hug can last from a few seconds to hours (per MS Society). Many patients told MyMSTeam they thought they were having heart attacks. It's important to take these symptoms seriously because those with MS are 60% more likely to have a heart attack than those without the diagnosis.

However, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that these sensations are how your brain responds to signals sent along the damaged sensory pathways in your spinal cord, and no actual squeezing occurs. Medical News Today recommends seeing your doctor for a long-term treatment plan. In the meantime, relaxation techniques, stress avoidance, changing clothes, and using a heating pad relieve symptoms. It would help if you also tried to determine your triggers and then attempted to avoid them.

Fatigue from MS

Known as lassitude, fatigue associated with MS is worse than regular fatigue and is more likely to interfere with normal activities. Lassitude is unique to MS in that it is not directly related to depression, lack of sleep, or physical limitations brought on by the disease. Instead, lassitude happens every day, regardless of how restful you slept. Symptoms tend to intensify during the heat and humidity of summer and as the day goes on (per The National Multiple Sclerosis Society).

Medical professionals at the Cleveland Clinic theorize that lassitude results from an overactive immune system, which is constantly led to believe that you have a virus. Another cause of MS fatigue is that the disease causes the brain to work harder due to reduced electrical transmission of signals.

Lassitude often gets aggravated by secondary fatigue brought on by pain, muscle spasms, and other sleep disturbances. Secondary fatigue also results as a side effect of some medications, stress, and depression (via Multiple Sclerosis Trust).

Treatment of MS fatigue starts by determining the cause and addressing it. This may include occupational or physical therapy, stress management, or medications to help with sleep or symptom alleviation (per University of Pittsburgh).

Vision issues and MS

According to a study published by MyMSTeam, more than half of those with MS have at least five eye problems. The most common issue is optic neuritis. Multiple Sclerosis News Today reports that nearly 70% of those with MS will experience colorblindness, blurred vision, or blind spots associated with the optic nerve inflammation that occurs with optic neuritis. According to Healthline, symptoms tend to worsen for two weeks and then improve.

Other vision issues that affect those with MS include double vision and involuntary eye movements. Diplopia results from damage to your brain stem allowing two images to reach your brain. Nystagmus occurs when your eyes jump or move without your control. Though oscillopsia is considered an eye problem because it feels as if your eyes are moving side to side, it is actually caused by MS attacking the nerve cells in your inner ear (per Healthline).

Visual issues tend to dissipate as your other symptoms go into remission. Special glasses and a patch can help during flare-ups (via Medical News Today). The National MS Society also recommends rest to help reduce vision problems. Prednisone and some off-label medications have also been known to work. It's smart to speak with your doctor to determine the best course of action to alleviate your symptoms.

Pain resulting from MS

Though only recently accepted as a symptom of MS, the pain associated with the disease is categorized in several ways. Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) labels pain as neurogenic when it's directly attributed to MS lesions. Nociceptive pain results from compensating for issues that arise from living with the disease.

The medical professionals at the Cleveland Clinic describe pain based on where in the body it occurs. Two common types of pain are facial pain or trigeminal neuralgia and burning limb pain. Trigeminal neuralgia feels like electricity is flowing through one side of your face and often results from something touching you in the affected area. Burning in the limbs usually affects your legs at night.

Nearly half of MS patients who were part of a study by the Cleveland Clinic reported headaches when it came to pain. Another common type of pain mentioned in the study is known as Lhermitte's phenomenon. The pain associated with Lhermitte's only last a few seconds, so it doesn't require medication. However, it suddenly comes on and seems to spread from your neck.

According to the MS Society, pain associated with MS gets treated with anticonvulsant medications like carbamazepine, gabapentin, and pregabalin. Antidepressants like Amitriptyline help alleviate long-lasting pain, particularly in touch-sensitive patients. Ibuprofen, like Advil, and acetaminophen, like Tylenol help if you experience neuromuscular pain (via MSAA).


Many people use the words dizziness and vertigo to describe similar feelings. Dizziness refers to feeling lightheaded, off balance, and disorientated. Vertigo is the feeling that you or the room around you is spinning. These symptoms result from either the growth of a new lesion or the increased size of an existing one on your brain stem in the area that controls balance (via Multiple Sclerosis Foundation).

For the patients affected by dizziness, Healthline recommends sitting still in low lighting until the feeling passes. Then, start slowly moving when you begin to feel better. To avoid tripping and falling, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation recommends removing anything you might trip over at home, using a cane and a shower chair.

Medical professionals at University of Pittsburgh recommend medications for motion sickness, including Bonine, Dramamine, and Zofran, to help alleviate symptoms. In addition, see your doctor to rule out medication side effects, blood vessel disease, migraine, or stroke as possible causes of dizziness (per Healthline).

Walking problems

The way you walk is known as your gait. However, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that MS hinders your ability to be ambulatory in several ways. In fact, a study published by International Journal of MS Care shows that 75% of those with MS have reduced mobility, making it the symptom that causes the most significant deterioration in quality of life.

According to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, gait issues result from nerve pathways affected by MS damage causing coordination problems, numbness, and vision problems that interfere with your ability to walk. This leads many MS patients to fear falling, which causes them to stop going out in public.

A brochure available through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society also states that MS causes spasticity or tight muscles and balance issues called ataxia, resulting in walking problems. Furthermore, fatigue and weakness also make walking difficult.

Your physical therapist can help moderate some of your walking issues by teaching you how to adapt. Stretching, using assistive devices, and some medications also help. It's also beneficial to wear low-heeled shoes, move items out of the way so you don't trip, tack down flooring, and speak to your doctor about fall prevention so you can remain both independent and safe (per the National Multiple Sclerosis Society).


Medically referred to as paresthesia, Healthline describes numbness as having an extremity "fall asleep" or feel as if there are pins and needles below your skin causing a prickling, burning, skin-crawling sensation. According to the book Multiple Sclerosis: Current Status and Strategies for the Future, nearly 80% of MS patients have these numbness or tingling sensations. This makes numbness the second most common symptom associated with MS (via Medical News Today).

MS makes your brain unable to interpret specific signals. "To deal with this, it tries to relate it to something the body has experienced before such as itching or burning" (via Multiple Sclerosis Trust).

While the leading cause of numbness is nerve damage, Medical News Today reports illness, stress, allergies, and changes to hormones and your environment tend to spark these issues. In addition, numbness and tingling can cause balance and coordination issues, problems finding a comfortable way to sit, and difficulty concentrating.

While there are no medications that doctors can prescribe for numbness, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that most bouts are short-lived. However, corticosteroids can help if symptoms become severe.


Multiple Sclerosis Australia defines spasms as muscles that feel heavy and hard to move. They also become stiff, which may cause your arm or leg to move involuntarily. MS patients can have one of four different kinds of spasms. A flexor spasm causes the affected extremity to move toward your body. Extensor spasms send your limb away from your body. If you have difficulty separating the affected area from the rest of your body, that is an adductor spasm. Trunk spasms generally occur when sitting or lying down and cause your back to arch. Additionally, those with MS may also experience a type of spasm known as clonus, wherein the affected limb moves repetitively.

A study published in Brain and Behavior reports that spasms not only interfere with your mobility and daily activities, they can also cause pain, make you lose sleep, and affect your bladder. These issues can then result in anxiety and depression.

According to Multiple Sclerosis: Current Status and Strategies for the Future, spasms related to MS result from a communication disruption leading to muscles staying in a state of persistent contraction. These interruptions in information transmission develop due to pain, illness, fatigue, medications, anxiety, and stress (per Multiple Sclerosis Australia).

Spasms are treated by managing your triggers. Several stretches and exercises can help. For severe cases, your doctor can inject you with Botox (via Multiple Sclerosis Australia).

Sexual dysfunction

More than two-thirds of patients in a study by the Cleveland Clinic revealed that they experience sexual dysfunction symptoms. However, most doctors fail to broach the subject. Almost half of the medical professionals surveyed said they didn't have enough time — others said it wasn't their job or their patients were uncomfortable with the subject.

Another issue that affects treating sexual dysfunction in those with MS is that it stems from several different problems. Sexual dysfunction in those with MS can directly result from the disease and its effect on the nervous system. Those are considered primary causes. Additionally, sexual dysfunction can also stem from the problems associated with MS, including fatigue and spasms, also referred to as secondary causes. Finally, those with MS can also experience tertiary issues that result in sexual dysfunction, including how the disease affects one's psyche (via Nature Reviews Urology).

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers several treatment options. For those experiencing primary sexual dysfunction, there are several oral medications available. Men can also use injectable medication and a prosthetic device. In addition, there are lubricants available to help women obtain enhanced stimulation. Secondary symptoms are best treated by determining if any of your medications are causing an issue and managing the symptoms that contribute to your sexual dysfunction. Counseling is seen as the best route for those with tertiary symptoms.

Bladder and bowel issues

According to Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, the lesions associated with MS cause communication issues between your brain and the muscles used to urinate and defecate. As a result, messages either fail to get through or are slow to make it to your bladder or urinary sphincter, as well as your bowel and pelvic floor muscles.

Nearly 90% of those with MS report bladder issues that correlate to the stage of the disease they're experiencing (via Multiple Sclerosis: Current Status and Strategies for the Future). MS LifeLines reports that the most common issue associated with bladder dysfunction and MS is a spastic bladder, wherein the bladder doesn't hold a regular amount of urine or fails to empty. In addition to causing infection, a spastic bladder can also result in an increased need to go, leaking, incontinence, and more nighttime trips to the bathroom.

More than half of those with urinary issues also have bowel issues. In fact, more than two-thirds of those with MS experience bowel dysfunction. One theory is that those experiencing bladder issues decrease their fluid intake, causing constipation, according to Multiple Sclerosis: Current Status and Strategies for the Future.

MS LifeLines recommends drinking at least six glasses of water daily, cutting fluid intake off after a few hours before bedtime, and reducing alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners, which can irritate the bladder. You should also increase the amount of fiber you consume. In addition, speak with your doctor if it's been more than three days since you've had a bowel movement and before increasing activity or using medications that help you poop.


You are expected to feel sad after being diagnosed with MS or any chronic disease. However, if that emotion interferes with everyday life, it could be depression (per MyMSTeam). This is especially true if the sentiment lasts more than two weeks and includes hopelessness and loss of interest (via the National Multiple Sclerosis Society).

The European Journal of Neurology reports that MS patients are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those without the disease, especially during the first five years. In fact, according to Multiple Sclerosis News Today, nearly one-third of newly diagnosed MS patients have depression, and almost two-thirds have it at some point after diagnosis.

Dr. Alissa Willis, chair of the department of neurology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told MyMSTeam that several factors contribute to depression in those living with MS. First, you are living with a chronic disease. Second, she said, the condition "affects your brain; it affects the processing of neurotransmitters that influence your mood, things like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine." Additionally, a study reported in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society shows a more significant amount of inflammation in the brains of MS patients with depression.

Doctors treat depression with antidepressant medication and therapy, which may include one-on-one sessions with a licensed professional and/or group therapy with others that have MS.

Cognitive impairment

According to the National MS Society, cognition is the term used to describe the brain's high-level functions that allow you to process information, pay attention, remember things, and problem-solve. Those with MS experience difficulty learning new things due to memory and recall issues, as well as a slowing of the flow of information. Additionally, MS patients also have problems with multitasking.

ScienceDaily reports that more than 60% of those with MS experience some form of cognitive impairment, which the Multiple Sclerosis Trust states are generally mild and tend to change daily.

Cognitive impairment can be a direct result of the damage done by MS. However, it can also result from the medications you take for the disease. Additionally, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of MS tend to make cognition worse (per Multiple Sclerosis Trust).

While few medications treat cognitive impairment, two types of rehabilitation are available: restorative and compensatory. Restorative rehabilitation allows you to try and regain the skills you've lost. This approach uses repetitive activities and is often computer-based. Compensatory rehabilitation teaches you to use strategies to make up for what you can no longer do, including "visualization and reminders" (via ScienceDaily).

Doctors that treat MS

If you suspect you have MS, Healthline recommends starting with your family doctor or primary care physician (PCP). They will begin by doing an exam and reviewing your medical history. If need be, you will see a neurologist who limits their practice to treating those with MS. However, your PCP will remain in charge of monitoring your overall health and treating your illnesses and infections (per Medical News Today).

Medical News Today also recommends asking your local MS advocacy group for a list of providers. You can also ask friends, other members of your MS support group, and your insurance provider for recommendations as personalities don't always work well together, and your first choice might not be the right one for you.

Additionally, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation states that you will need a team of medical professionals to assist with your care. These include physical therapists to help maintain mobility, occupational therapists to help you independently complete daily activities, a dietitian to help you create a healthy diet, and social workers to keep you informed of the available help. Furthermore, you will also need a urologist for bladder problems, a neuro-ophthalmologist to treat eye issues, a neuropsychologist to assist with behavioral and cognitive problems, and a psychiatrist or psychologist to treat depression.


The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) recommends that those diagnosed with MS begin treatment as soon as possible to help reduce the damage done by inflammation caused by the immune system attacking the nervous system (per Multiple Sclerosis News Today).

Medical professionals at Johns Hopkins Medicine offer three types of treatments; abortive, preventive, and symptomatic. Doctors turn to abortive therapy to treat and reduce the duration of relapse symptoms. Abortive therapy is primarily done through the use of a type of steroid known as glucocorticoids. These are the same medications given to those with severe asthma and allergic reactions. If the steroids don't help, the Mayo Clinic offers plasma therapy.

The preventative therapies offered at Johns Hopkins Medicine work to reduce the number of flare-ups and their severity, as well as slow the progression of your disease. To do this, the doctors use injections of a beta interferon, monoclonal antibodies, or a chemotherapy drug to slow and suppress the immune response that causes the inflammation associated with MS (via Multiple Sclerosis News Today).

Symptomatic therapies, including medications, rehabilitation strategies, and consultations with specialists enable you to better manage how MS interferes with your everyday life (per Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Multiple Sclerosis News Today reminds you that not every treatment is suitable for every person. Work with your doctors to determine which ones are right for you.