Early signs of MS: What to know

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the disease affects over 2.3 million people worldwide.

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) vary widely and can range from mild to debilitating. It can cause fatigue, numbness, tingling, vision problems, a loss of mobility, and paralysis.

Although there is no cure for MS, treatment can help manage the disease and slow its progression.

Early intervention offers the best chance against long-term disability. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize the initial symptoms of MS and seek prompt medical attention. Read on to learn more.

Early signs and symptoms

Most people with MS experience their first symptoms in their 20s or 30s. Some of the most common early indications include:

Vision changes

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the United States report that vision problems are often the initial symptom of MS. Inflammation disrupts the vision when it affects the optic nerves.

Possible vision changes include:

  • blurred vision
  • double vision
  • red-green color distortion
  • loss of vision
  • pain when looking up or to the side

MS is an autoimmune disease that damages the central nervous system. The exact cause is not clear, but genetic and environmental factors likely play a role in its onset.

Factors that increase the risk of developing MS include:

  • Age: MS most commonly affects people in their 20s or 30s, although it can occur at any age.
  • Sex: The condition affects at least twice as many women as men.
  • Family history: The average person has a 0.1 percent chance of developing MS. However, if a close family member has the disease, a person has a 2.5–5.0 percent chance.
  • Infection: Several viruses may influence MS, including the Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Other autoimmune diseases: People with other autoimmune conditions, such as thyroid disease or type 1 diabetes, have a slightly increased risk of developing MS.
  • Geographic region: MS is much more common in temperate climates than sunny regions. Within the U.S., the condition is more common in Northern states.
  • Ethnicity: White people, especially those of Northern European heritage, are most likely to develop MS. Those of African, Asian, or Native American heritage are least likely.
  • Smoking: People who smoke may have a higher risk of developing MS.

When to see a doctor

Anyone with early symptoms of MS should consult a doctor without delay. Damage to the central nervous system can occur even before a person experiences symptoms.

Early diagnosis and treatment can provide the best chance of preventing disability.

Many treatments can help slow the progression of MS and alleviate symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, and bladder problems.

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