What Are the Early Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive autoimmune disease that affects over two million people worldwide. It makes your immune system attack the protective sheath surrounding your nerves (called the myelin sheath) — and this causes nerve damage.

MS can cause a range of symptoms from fatigue to vision loss to trouble walking. Most people have their first symptoms between ages 20 and 40, but symptoms can start at any age. Learn about the early symptoms of MS and how you can get a diagnosis.

Watch for Early Signs of MS

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MS affects everyone differently, so symptoms can be hard to spot. And early MS symptoms are similar to signs of other health conditions. Some common early MS symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (feeling very tired all the time): Fatigue can be a sign of many health conditions. But most people feel increased fatigue before being diagnosed with MS.
  • Tingling or numbness in your limbs: As the nerves in the spine lose their myelin sheaths, you may feel tingling and numbness in your arms, fingers and legs.
  • Eye pain and vision problems: Early MS often causes eye pain, blurry vision and even vision loss.
  • Changes in bowel movements: MS affects the nerve supply to the bowels and bladder. Some people notice changes in their bowel movements, like constipation or diarrhea. You may also have incontinence (trouble controlling your bladder). 

Am I at Risk for MS?

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Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes MS. But it’s likely caused by a combination of genes and environmental factors. You may be at higher risk for MS if you:

  • Have a close relative with MS
  • Were assigned female at birth
  • Are white, especially with European ancestry
  • Have another autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes

How Can I Get an MS Diagnosis?

There’s no single test for early MS. Your doctor will probably order an MRI to look for changes in your brain and nervous system. They may also do a lumbar puncture to collect spinal fluid — higher levels of certain proteins in the spinal fluid can be a sign of MS.

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You’ll probably need to see an MS specialist or a neurologist (specialist in the brain and nervous system). Your doctor will look at a combination of factors and rule out other conditions to make the diagnosis. Together, you and your doctor can figure out what’s causing your symptoms and find the right treatment for you.

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