Symptoms Of Multiple Sclerosis You Might Be Overlooking

Chances are you've heard of multiple sclerosis (MS). But did you know that according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, one study estimates that roughly a million adults have been diagnosed with MS in the U.S. alone? And yet, recognizing the symptoms of MS can be challenging.

Before we dive into this topic, we need to understand the basics of MS. As the National Multiple Sclerosis Society explains, it affects the three main parts of the central nervous system: the optic nerves, the spinal cord, and the brain. While we are still learning about this condition, experts believe that the immune system of a person with MS goes after their central nervous system as if it were (for example) a dangerous bacteria or virus. As a result, the central nervous system can become injured, making it harder for the brain to transmit signals. Complicating the situation further is that how MS develops and progresses can vary from person to person. For instance, some might experience flare-ups of MS symptoms that recede while others might always have symptoms that don't noticeably lessen.

Even though MS can be unpredictable, there are certain symptoms that could be red flags of this disorder. Just remember, early detection is essential when it comes to MS, so if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following symptoms, you might want to speak with your healthcare professional.

Changes in vision

Imagine this: You have a friend who tells you about an unusual vision problem. They explain that when they look through their right eye, the color red appears incredibly light. They compare it to a red t-shirt that's faded because it's been washed so many times. Of course, your friend should see an eye doctor — but they may also want to visit their healthcare provider, because as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society points out, this type of vision change could be an early sign of MS.

Remember, MS affects the central nervous system, which includes the optic nerve. When this nerve becomes inflamed — a condition called optic neuritis — a person with MS could experience issues with one of their eyes. These include changes in color vision (like in the above scenario), as well as one's vision becoming blurry and/or dim. It's also possible to lose one's eyesight entirely as a result of optic neuritis. In addition, this condition can cause pain whenever someone moves their eye. And while optic neuritis typically affects either the right or the left eye, it is possible to have it affect one eye and then the other eye.

While changes to one's vision can be unsetting (to say the least), there is some good news. As the National Multiple Sclerosis Society notes, the majority of people who have MS and optic neuritis do regain their vision. Plus, glucocorticoids, which as WebMD explains are medicines that can treat inflammation, could help with optic neuritis.


It's not uncommon to feel a level of exhaustion that goes beyond being tired. With that said, not only is fatigue a possible sign of multiple sclerosis, according to the Cleveland Clinic, it's an extremely typical symptom of this health problem. In fact, the Clinic estimates that up to 95% of people with MS experience fatigue.

Despite how often fatigue and MS go hand in hand, we're still not entirely sure how these two conditions are connected, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, there are several theories. One is that cytokines (proteins secreted by cells) might be the reason behind MS-related fatigue. The immune system in particular lets off cytokines, and their levels do tend to be higher in MS patients. Other theories of why fatigue is often a sign of MS center around the brain — either that it's overtaxed by the condition, or isn't transmitting signals at the same rate as someone who doesn't have MS.

Although we are still learning about fatigue's relationship to MS, the Cleveland Clinic explains that we have identified two different types of exhaustion that can occur with multiple sclerosis. One is similar to the weariness one might experience if they don't get enough sleep. The other is muscle fatigue, where everyday activities like walking can wear out the muscles to the point that they aren't functioning normally.

Problems with speech

When's the last time you couldn't quite remember a word and said, "it's on the tip of my tongue?" It can be very annoying, especially when you've used that word literally hundreds of times. But as Healthline points out, forgetting words is just one type of speech problem someone might experience if they have multiple sclerosis.

According to Healthline, since MS can affect the parts of your brain responsible for language processing, it's possible for those with MS to develop aphasia, a condition that makes it harder to communicate through both speaking and writing. MS can also throw off the muscles responsible for your speech, which can cause dysarthria. If this occurs, your speech could become slurred, and you might find yourself taking longer pauses between words. In addition, a person with MS could find their voice isn't as strong as it was prior to developing the condition.

Now to be fair, it is possible to have MS and never experience these types of speech problems, according to Healthline. With that said, they are still a typical symptom of multiple sclerosis and can happen often or for just a few minutes on a daily basis. In other words, the severity and duration of MS-related speech issues usually vary from person to person. And one more possible red flag to keep in mind: If you're experiencing MS-related speech problems, you might also have difficulty swallowing.


Now before you get too nervous, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America notes that feeling numbness can occur for a number of different reasons. Just having a toothache, for example, can create a numb sensation. So can not getting enough vitamins or wearing clothes that are too constricting. But with that said, numbness is not only a possible symptom of MS, but there are also several different types you might experience if you have this condition.

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, a person is likely to experience three forms of numbness if they have MS. One is paresthesia, which is the umbrella term for tingling, crawling sensations. Another is hyperpathia, where the individual might become more sensitive to discomfort. And still another is dysesthesia, which would mean, for example, that a typical high five could be very painful. In addition, a rarer form of numbness experienced by some MS patients is anesthesia, where their sense of touch becomes diminished. Someone with this form of numbness might not be able to feel when something is hot or cold, and is less likely to experience physical pain.

The good news is that MS-related numbness is usually fleeting, only affects certain areas of the body, and is generally not dangerous, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. As a matter of fact, it's unlikely that a healthcare professional would even prescribe medication for this common MS symptom. Nevertheless, you should let them know if you're experiencing any form of numbness.


This next symptom is extremely common for someone with multiple sclerosis, according to Everyday Health. But while most people might think of tremors happening only in the hands or arms, neurologist Dr. Alessandro Serra told Everyday Health that MS-related uncontrolled muscle movements can happen in quite a few areas of the body, including in the muscles that control the vocal cords.

As Everyday Health explains, one of the most common types of tremors for someone with multiple sclerosis are cerebellar ones. These tend to be slow shaking in the body's limbs following specific actions like ringing a doorbell. Other types that can occur for MS patients include intentional tremors, which Dr. Serra tells Everyday Health happen "... when you reach for something and start to shake." Someone with MS might also experience postural tremors while they're, for example, sitting or standing. And although it's more typical with Parkinson's disease, it's possible for a person with MS to have tremors while resting.

Like many MS symptoms, how severe tremors are can vary from one case to another. But as MS neurologist Dr. Harold Gutstein told Everyday Health, "There are no great treatments for MS tremors once they start, which is why prevention is so important." So, if you're experiencing tremors (and especially any of the four types of tremors associated with MS), you should contact your healthcare professional right away. Remember, early detection is essential when it comes to treating MS.


Let's clear something up: Vertigo is technically not the same thing as dizziness. As Healthline explains, dizziness involves feeling lightheaded, while vertigo is when everything seems to be spinning. To put it another way, dizziness is the off-balance feeling you might have right after you get off a roller coaster. Vertigo is feeling like you're still looping around on the roller coaster even after you've left the amusement park. And not only can both occur with multiple sclerosis, but a report in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal states that vertigo occurs for rough 20% of MS patients.

The reason why some individuals with MS experience vertigo is because multiple sclerosis can cause lesions to form on the areas of the brain responsible for maintaining balance, according to Healthline. And while vertigo can be unsettling and even alarming, there are ways to manage it. Mainly, get into a seated position and stay still. In particular, you don't want to move your head. When you feel like the vertigo has passed, try moving again, but do so slowly. And if you have bouts of vertigo at night, you might want to try sleeping in a recliner.

Although vertigo can occur because of MS, the disease is only one possible reason for this spinning sensation, according the Healthline. For example, it's not uncommon to experience vertigo while having a migraine. It's also a potential red flag that something is wrong with your inner ear. Whatever the underlying cause, if you're experiencing vertigo, seek medical help.


Okay, this next symptom can be difficult to talk about even to a trained medical professional. After all, no one wants to go into great detail about their bowels. But as the journal PLoS One notes, some data supports that more than half of multiple sclerosis patients experience problems when it comes to going number one or number two. And the journal Degenerative Neurological and Neuromuscular Disease says roughly 50% of individuals with MS have constipation.

According to Medical News Today, the connection between MS and constipation is that multiple sclerosis can damage nerves, which can interfere with the electrical signals needed for the bowels to properly function. This could lead to more difficult bowel movements, as well as not moving your bowels as often. Constipation can also be a side effect of some medications used to treat MS. In addition, both MS patients and non-MS patients can experience constipation if they aren't as active (such as not exercising regularly), not eating enough fiber or drinking enough water, or are experiencing stress.

Besides the unpleasantness of being constipated, not being able to move your bowels regularly can cause hard feces to accumulate inside your colon or rectum, according to Medical News Today. This condition is known as fecal impaction and can lead to major health problems if it's not addressed. So, if you're experiencing constipation and have MS, you should keep a food journal and share that information with your healthcare professional.

Hearing problems

Have you ever watched a movie where someone is near an explosion, and suddenly all the sounds in the movie are replaced by a high-pitched ringing noise? This is, of course, done to add more drama and signal what the characters might be experiencing, but in real life a person with MS might hear similar ringing for no apparent reason. According to MS Focus, it's very typical for someone with multiple sclerosis to experience Tinnitus (a.k.a. the sensation that your ears are ringing). But this isn't the only way MS can impact your hearing.

Chances are you studied in school how our ears work, but here's a quick refresher. As MS Focus explains, when our ears take in sound vibrations, they are turned into signals that are transmitted by the auditory nerve to the brain. But MS can cause lesions on the auditory nerve, which can interfere with these signals being properly transmitted. Plus, some believe that MS-related lesions on the brain stem might also throw off one's hearing.

And there's still another possible complication when it comes to MS and hearing issues. For some people with MS, heat can cause hearing loss, according to MS Focus. This ties into what is known as Uhtoff's Phenomenon, where, for example, one's body temperature going up after exercising can cause their MS symptoms worsen, as MS Focus explains. Just remember, hearing loss can be the first sign of MS, and early detection can make a difference when it comes to managing one's symptoms.

Loss of taste

While MS can affect taste, this sign hasn't been researched as much as other possible symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to Multiple Sclerosis News Today. Why? Well, part of the problem could be people don't always realize they're losing their sense of taste because the changes in how some foods taste is subtle. Also, some MS patients might be mistaking issues with their sense of taste for issues with their sense of smell. The bottom line is, the fewer people who report a symptom, the less likely it'll be studied. However, that doesn't mean there hasn't been any research into loss of taste and MS.

As Multiple Sclerosis News Today notes, the University of Pennsylvania's Smell and Taste Center performed blind tests of four tastes — sour, salty, sweet, and bitter — on a total of 146 participants (half with and half without MS). The researchers also examined brain legions via MRIs. The results were that the MS patients in the study had more difficulty identifying all of the different tastes and had particular difficulty with salty and sweet. And, yes, the brain legions definitely seemed to play a factor in their diminished sense of taste.

Okay, but what can someone with MS do about this possible symptom? Well, as Everyday Health explains, there are some simple tricks that can help. For one, spicing up your meals can pump up their flavor and make them more enjoyable. Also, hot dishes tend to have stronger flavors than cold ones.


While there are treatments for MS, that doesn't mean it isn't a life-changing condition. So, as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society explains, it's not surprising that a person diagnosed with MS often goes through mourning over the loss of what their life used to be and how some activities are either harder or no longer possible. This, however, isn't the same thing as developing clinical depression in connection with MS.

That said, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, it's very common for someone with MS to experience clinical depression. Signs of this severe type of depression can vary widely from person to person. For example, one MS patient might sleep more often as a result of clinical depression, while another might not be able to sleep at all. This type of depression can lead to overeating in one individual and loss of appetite in someone else. Other possible signs of clinical depression include being irritable, difficulty concentrating, and feeling sad and worthless. A person with clinical depression is also likely to not find the same level of pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed, and could have suicidal thoughts.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to depression is that it is not something anyone can just shake off and get over, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Nor is it something you should hide. If you or someone you know has been experiencing any of the above signs of depression, contact a healthcare professional.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), visit the National Institute of Mental Health website, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Bladder problems

If you have MS and are having problems urinating, you're definitely not alone. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, at least 80% of MS patients experience bladder dysfunction. Yes, you read that right: at least 80%.

Specifically, lesions caused by multiple sclerosis could interfere with how the brain relays signals that are crucial for proper urinary function. As a result, a person with MS might feel like they need to urinate more often and have difficulty "holding it." They also could have trouble draining all the urine from their bladder, or could have problems getting a stream of urine to start. Of course, MS isn't the only thing that can throw off someone's ability to normally urinate, but there are some good questions to ask yourself if you suspect MS is behind your urination issues. For example, are you finding that you need to use the bathroom more than once a night? Have you been having accidents and/or need to rush to the restroom to avoid accidents? And, in general, are you using the bathroom more often than you have in the past?

Fortunately, even if MS is affecting your urination, there are things you can do. As the National Multiple Sclerosis Society points out, changes in what you eat and drink might help improve the symptoms of bladder dysfunction. You also might want to pack pads, wipes, and a change of underwear when you leave the house.

Pain in your torso

Normally, when we think of a hug, we imagine something comforting and soothing. An "MS hug," however, is anything but pleasant. As WebMD explains, this "hug" is actually a tight feeling some people with MS experience around the torso. For this reason, it's sometimes also called the MS girdle or banding. However, this type of discomfort can greatly vary not only in how it feels, but also where it occurs on the body.

According to WebMD, the "MS hug" can occur not just in the middle of your torso, but also as high up as your neck and low as your waist. And while tightness and pressure are common signs of this symptom of MS, as person might also experience other sensations like sharp or dull pain, "pins and needles," and even vibrations. In addition, they could have difficulty breathing. However, the underlying cause for all of these possible signs of the "MS hug" are the same: Muscles in the rib cage spasming. And as WebMD explains, muscle spasms caused by MS are typically because of problems with the relay of electrical signals from the brain to your muscles.

Besides the torso, the "MS hug" can also happen in the feet, hands, and head, according to WebMD. If this occurs, then you might feel like you're wearing shoes that are suddenly too small for your feet, for instance.


When someone has multiple sclerosis, their brain might be unable to relay the right amount of electrical signals to their muscles, according to WebMD. If this occurs, it can cause not just muscle spasms, but also muscle stiffness. This combination of muscle issues is called spasticity. Now, technically these issues can occur just about everywhere in the body. For example, as WebMD explains, the muscles in your rib cage can spasm and cause the infamous "MS hug." But even more likely is developing muscle issues in the arms and legs.

As WebMD notes, how spasticity affects your muscles can vary. You might experience tight muscles, which can range from being unpleasant to painful. You also could have uncontrollable muscle movements, which are likely to occur at night. However, there are factors that can impact spasticity in terms of what you experience and how severe it is. For example, constrictive clothes can exacerbate the symptoms of spasticity. So can posture and state of mind. For example, a person feeling tense might have a different amount of muscle spasms and stiffness than a person who is relaxed.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to help your muscles if you have MS-related spasticity. According to WebMD, there are stretches that can lengthen the muscles and help manage spasms and stiffness. You also might want to explore medical devices like braces, splints, and casts, depending on the severity of spasticity you experience.

Cognitive issues

We've all had moments where we can't bring to mind the a particular word or the information we need, but as the Cleveland Clinic notes, memory lapses, as well as other cognitive problems, can be symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

To understand why cognitive issues sometimes happen because of MS, it's important to keep in mind that multiple sclerosis can cause lesions on one's brain, according to Healthline. Depending on exactly what areas of the brain these lesions form, a person with MS might find it more difficult remember things like names, conversations, and events, as the Cleveland Clinic explains. They also might have a harder time learning something new. For example, if they're driving somewhere they've never driven before, they might have a more difficult time recalling the directions. In addition, they might have difficulty paying attention, taking on more than one task at a time, and making decisions.

Although lesions on certain areas of the brain can affect things like memory, that's not the only reason why someone with MS might have difficulty with cognitive functions. As Healthline points out, other MS-related symptoms like sleeping issues and depression could have an impact on one's memory.