Multiple sclerosis is one of those scary health concerns that rarely comes up in conversation. And yet, learning about and recognizing the early signs of MS is so important. This is especially true since the earliest symptoms are annoyingly easy to miss. In fact, one study cited on WebMD found that people often go an average of seven years between their first MS symptom and their diagnosis. That's how "strange" and "subtle" they can be.
And, that's a long time to sit around with symptoms that have a tendency to get worse with time. With MS, the body is essentially attacking itself, and it can lead to some pretty nasty symptoms. As health expert Elicia Miller says, "Multiple sclerosis involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves."
As a result, it's possible to experience vision problems, muscle spams, difficulty walking, weakness, and vertigo, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It may sound scary, but there are treatments available. As Malcolm Thaler, MD, a doctor based in New York with One Medical says, "Over the past few years a whole host of medications have been developed that can prevent relapses and preserve neurologic function." Thaler also says exercise, vitamin D supplementation, and smoking cessation can help.
While everyone experiences MS differently, treating the disease quickly is the best way to feel better — and prevent further disability. Read on for some subtle early warning signs. If anything sounds familiar, make sure you chat with your doctor ASAP.
1. Colors Seem To Be Less Vivid
Many early warning signs of MS center around vision troubles. That's because MS can cause optic neuritis, a condition that damages the nerve connecting the eye to the brain, according to WebMD. This — among other things — can make colors appear less vivid. So take note if the world suddenly seems a bit dull.
2. Your Eyes Hurt When You Move Them
You may also experience some pain in your eyes when looking around, according to WebMD. If this happens, get yourself checked out — even if you start to feel better. "Often, the symptoms get better on their own within a few weeks or months. But if you have these symptoms, go to your doctor right away."
3. Parts Of Your Body Feel Numb Or "Strange"
If you've been feeling tingly as of late, it may be your body trying to tell you something. This is especially true if it's been in the form of numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, women's health expert Dr. Donnica L. Moore tells me. You might also feel repetitive pain or tingling sensations in various parts of the body (like your face). This is due to MS affecting your nerves, so do yourself a favor and get yourself evaluated ASAP.
4. You're Experiencing Double Vision
Double vision can happen if you've been staring at your computer all day. But it can also be a sign of MS. "Typically double vision (loss of coordination between the eyes) is an early indicator, especially in women in their late teens to early 30s," says Dr. Jeff Anshel, OD, FAAO, in an email to Bustle.
5. Balance Has Become An Issue
As MS starts to affect your brain, you may experience imbalance or other subtle neurological problems. As Thaler tells me, a careful neurologic examination can point them out. So if you've been feeling wobbly or unbalanced, call for a check up today.
6. Tingles Keep Running Down Your Spine
Ever move your head and feel an electric shock go down your neck? According to WebMD, this sensation — which can also travel down your spine or into your arms or legs — is an early predictor of MS.
7. You Feel Tired All The Time
I know, you work super hard and never go to bed on time. That's why it's OK to occasionally feel tired. But MS fatigue is something entirely different. You might feel tired even though you haven't really done anything, Moore tells me, or exhausted in a debilitating sort of way. If this sounds familiar, it could be due to any number of things (mono, the flu, etc.). And yet it's still work telling your doctor.
8. You've Had Trouble Walking
MS can affect your balance, which can show up while you're standing around. But it can also make you feel weird while walking down the street. Have you noticed that your gait has changed, or do you ever feel like you forget how to walk? According to WebMD, this early sign might be cause for concern.
9. You Feel Extra Crappy Whenever You Get Hot
It's normal to feel tired at the gym, but it's not so normal to feel weak. So if you get this way whilst sweating it out at the gym, take note. According to WebMD, the symptoms will generally go away once you cool down. But don't let them go on ignored.
10. You Keeping Running Off To The Bathroom
As Moore tells me, all sorts of bathroom-related symptoms can crop up with MS. You might notice you're peeing more frequently or urgently, having trouble emptying your bladder, or even struggling with bowel changes. While these can point to other issues (like a UTI, for example) it's definitely something to keep in mind.
11. Your Brain Has Been Feeling Foggy
MS can lead to brain fog, which is a very annoying "spaced out" feeling. It can also lead to "problems with short-term memory, concentration, judgment, or reasoning," Moore says. Basically, if your brain feels "off," there might be something up.
While you don't need to panic — especially since these symptoms can mimic many other problems — it is a good idea to monitor your health. And, of course, follow up with a doctor if anything seems wrong.