Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating, and sometimes tragic illness that strikes with frustrating randomness. The disorder occurs when the protective myelin sheath around nerve fibers begins to deteriorate, which leads to misfiring of the nerve fibers themselves. Sufferers may show little to no sign of MS for months or even years, only to be stricken with this sudden disability. Knowing the signs of early-stage MS is crucial to a prompt diagnosis and effective treatment.
Sometimes, the onset of MS consists of impaired or abnormal sensations, such as tingling or numbness, typically in one limb at a time. These sensations may be painful, and are characterized as ""electric shocks"" to the neck. These shocks are usually made worse when the head is tilted forward. Another common source of pain is the so-called ""MS hug,"" which consists of two bands of pain gripping the torso.
Vision may also become impaired. Blurred or double vision are often symptoms of MS. Blindness, either full or partial, can set in quickly and persist for an indefinite length of time. Symptoms related to vision usually strike one eye at a time, as each eye has a separate optic nerve.
Sensory nerves are not the only type of neuron MS damages; motor nerves may also become impaired. When this happens, people suffering from the early stages of MS often grow unstable or weak, or can develop a tremor and an unsteady gait. Sometimes, speech becomes slurred and difficult to understand. Incontinence may develop as the patient has difficulty controlling bladder or bowel movements.
MS has the potential to cause symptoms all over the body, as well as symptoms that have no obvious point of focus. Dizziness, for example, often accompanies the onset of MS, and it has the potential to cause falls or other harm. Fatigue is also common, though it is easy to misdiagnose as either normal tiredness or the symptom of another illness such as the flu.
Making a Diagnosis
Diagnosing MS is never easy. The disorder strikes in such unpredictable ways, and with such seeming randomness, that doctors can easily miss signs that a patient has MS. This is especially true during the early progression of the disease, as the symptoms are so irregular. In order to make a proper diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, it is necessary to rule out all other potential causes for the symptoms.
There is no single test to diagnose MS, but an MRI and a spinal tap may be performed in the effort to rule out infection and trauma as causes for the observable symptoms. Symptoms must be reported at least twice for an MS diagnosis to be made, and ideally the episodes will be separated by at least one month.
As with any chronic disorder, identifying the cause of the problem early is the key to managing symptoms later.