Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurological condition that affects the nerves and brain. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the substance that protects the nerve fibres. Over 130,000 people are currently living with MS in the UK. Here’s a look at the early warning signs to be aware of.
According to the MS Society, most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 30 and 60, but the first symptoms often appear years before an official diagnosis is made. As the nerve fibres become damaged, messages are not able to travel as efficiently to the brain or may become blocked altogether.
The central nervous system is responsible for coordinating the actions of the entire body, so over time a wide range of symptoms can develop. These will vary in type and severity between individuals and can come and go over time, but there are some more common signs to watch out for. As the condition progresses, it can result in severe disability.
Problems with eyes and vision
About half of all people with MS will experience problems with their eyes. These include optic neuritis, double vision, and involuntary eye movements. Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve, which results in blurred vision, pain when moving the eyes, and muted colour vision.
Balance problems and dizziness
The feeling of being off balance or dizzy is a common symptom of MS. This can make walking more difficult and increase the risk of falls.
Bladder and bowel problems
In some people with MS, the messages that signal when the bladder needs emptying are disrupted, resulting in the need to urinate frequently. The bladder may not fully empty in some cases, which can exacerbate the problem.
MS can also affect the control of the bowels, leading to constipation or leakage. These are uncomfortable and distressing issues, but they can be managed with diet, medication, or surgery.
Most people with MS will experience problems with memory and thinking to some degree. This can make it difficult to plan ahead, learn new topics, concentrate, recall information, multitask, and select the right words when speaking or writing.
Some people are only affected mildly and are able to go about their daily lives with much trouble. Therefore it is often missed as an early warning sign of MS. In some cases, people describe the above symptoms as ‘brain fog’. It may be accompanied by mood changes and other mental health problems.
Tremors are involuntary shaking or trembling movements that can vary from mild to severe in MS patients.
Numbness or tingling
Unusual levels of numbness or tingling in the limbs is a common early symptom of MS.
Stiffness or spasms
Muscle spasms or stiffness affects between 40% and 80% of MS patients, but are usually occasional symptoms according to the MS Society.
There is currently no cure for MS, but it can be treated and managed by dedicated medical teams. Mr Jonathan Hyam is a consultant who specialises in neurological conditions including multiple sclerosis and nerves damage, practising privately at Queen Square Radiosurgery Centre, part of Amethyst Radiotherapy UK.
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