It's always a good idea to keep an eye out for any and all changes in your body, especially when it comes to the
early signs of multiple sclerosis (MS). Not only is it important be your own health advocate, but since MS is one of those conditions that's better off caught early, the sooner you can begin treating symptoms as they appear, the better.
While it's not incredibly common, "it's estimated that
about 2.3 million people in the world have MS, and about 66 percent are women," Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, tells Bustle. "[It's] a disabling condition of the central nervous system that occurs when the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves, interfering with the brain-body connection."
And that's why it often comes along with
side effects like fatigue, tingling, dizziness, and numbness. "It's considered a type of autoimmune disease because the immune system attacks its own tissues," Dr. Axe says. "It can sometimes take a long time to be diagnosed with MS because symptoms can be very similar to those caused by numerous other conditions, such as thyroid disorders, anemia, nerve compression, other more common autoimmune diseases, etc."
It's important to keep in mind that these other issues — that also cause feelings of fatigue and dizziness — may be more likely. And yet, if any of the symptoms below are bothering you, you should definitely speak up. A neurologist will be able to perform a few tests, such as an MRI scan or spinal tap, and keep an eye on you in the years to come, to make sure you aren't developing the disease. And if you are, then they'll be better able to treat you early, so you can manage your symptoms. Here are a few
signs of MS experts want you to know about.
Vision problems, such as ... blurry or double vision, loss of color contrast (similar to color blindness), or even pain/straining while moving the eye," can all be early signs of MS, Dr. Axe says. "This might first be noticed when working on a computer, reading, or driving [and] is due to inflammation of the optic nerves, or optic neuritis."
Of course, it's natural for your eyes to feel a bit blurry after staring at a computer screen all day, or after hours and hours of reading or driving — usually due to
eye strain or dry eye. It's also typical for eyesight to deteriorate a bit, as you age. But if your vision issues seem out of the ordinary, or don't seem to be going away, it won't hurt to talk to a doctor, so they can figure out what's up and how to treat it.
If you have ongoing tingling or numbness in any area of your body — but especially in your legs — it may be a good idea to speak with a neurologist, who can begin tests to see if it is MS.
"Multiple sclerosis is a disorder that can lead to significant nerve damage," Dr. David Greuner, of
NYC Surgical Associates, tells Bustle, which is why you might notice a prickling or burning in your legs. It can also show up in the form of numbness in your face, or a prickling electric shock sensation when you turn your head, so be on the lookout for those symptoms, too. Of course, a numbness doesn't automatically mean MS, but if it's persistent, it's best to get it checked out by your doctor.
decreased sex drive can be chalked up to tiredness, a headache, or a hormonal imbalance — among other things that have nothing to do with MS. But since it can also be an early sign of the disease, it's not something you should necessarily ignore.
"Sexual problems including decreased sex drive, [can affect] both women and men with MS," Dr. Axe says. "These can be due to loss of sensation [due to nerve damage], insecurity, depression, and fatigue." All of which are common side effects of the disease. If you note substantial changes in your sex drive, talk to your doctor to get to the root of the cause.
Ongoing dizziness may also tip you off to a problem, especially if it seems to hit you out of nowhere. "Assuming you didn't just run up a flight of stairs or run around in circles, getting frequent bouts of dizziness could be a symptom of MS," author and
lifestyle expert Jaya Jaya Myra tells Bustle. "Look for other symptoms in conjunction, since dizziness can be due to other very normal, benign things as well." And if the dizziness is recurring, let your doctor know ASAP.
Depression & Mood Swings
MS is associated with a "
higher risk for mood-related problems, including depression, mood swings, irritability, manic depression, and anxiety," Dr. Axe says, "These are due to neurological changes and also usually associated with social withdrawal and having trouble coping with the diagnosis." If you have any of these symptoms, however, MS isn't the first place your mind should go. Only your doctor will be able to determine if MS is a concern, so speak with your primary care physician, or a therapist, if you are experiencing these changes.
If your throat feels out of the ordinary, or you're having trouble speaking or swallowing, let your doctor know. As Myra says, "MS can cause problems in speech and even swallowing food. If you notice your speech is slurred, slowed, or generally just not the same, get this checked out."
Difficulty With Everyday Activities
People with MS often notice that they start to have problems with simple things, like buttoning up their shirt. As Dr. Axe says, "Difficulty with everyday activities, for example trouble walking, getting dressed, eating, and bathing," are all things you should watch out for. This is, again, due to the nerve damage associated with MS. But do not panic if you begin to notice these symptoms — speak to your doctor, and they will better be able to evaluate the problem.
Bladder & Digestive Issues
everyone has the occasional upset stomach, or intense urge to pee, so don't assume you have MS just because you have to run off to the bathroom. Do, however, keep an eye on ongoing symptoms, such as bladder of digestive issues that won't seem to go away.
"Bladder and digestive problems, including feeling like you have to go more often or like you can't totally empty your bladder," may be a sign of a problem, Dr. Axe says. "Some also experience constipation." This can be linked to many other causes though, so be sure to consult your doctor if this becomes a problem.
Since MS affects your central nervous system, it can lead to difficulties with concentration and spaciness, otherwise
known as brain fog. As Dr. Axe says, don't ignore "cognitive or speech problems, such as trouble concentrating, brain fog, poor memory, [or the need] to take long pauses between words." All of these symptoms might be a sign of MS, and the sooner you can seek treatment, the better.
"As multiple sclerosis [begins to affect] the
myelin covering of your nerves, your brain’s signals get lost and weakened by the time they reach their intended destination," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "As a result, the loss of hand control is one of the most common symptoms of MS. Unfortunately, these compromised motor neurons can cause difficulty picking up objects, holding on to them, and even maintain steady hands." So if you feel shaky, talk to your doctor to help find out why.
"MS breaks down the nerves in the spinal cord, causing feelings of severe exhaustion that may last for weeks or months," registered nurse Rebecca Lee, creator of
RemediesForMe, tells Bustle. "It can cause problems with your day-to-day activities." So, while fatigue is one of those things that has a million and one causes, it never hurts to keep MS in the back of your mind, as one possibility.
That's not to say, however, that you should always assume you have MS — especially since its symptoms are so similar to other, less serious illnesses. You should, however, follow up with a doctor — namely, a neurologist — if these signs are ongoing. The
symptoms of MS can be kept in check, so the sooner you can start treating them, the better off you'll be.