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MS Signs & Symptoms

Learn to recognize and manage the possible symptoms of MS, which range from mild to severe.


In this article

MS symptoms are variable and unpredictable. No two people have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms can change or fluctuate over time. One person might experience only one or two of the possible symptoms while another person experiences many more.

Explore the list below to find more information about the symptoms you or someone you care about may experience. Most of these symptoms can be managed very effectively with medication, rehabilitation and other management strategies. Effective symptom management by an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals is one of the key components of comprehensive MS care.

More common symptoms

  • Fatigue

    Occurs in about 80% of people, can significantly interfere with the ability to function at home and work, and may be the most prominent symptom in a person who otherwise has minimal activity limitations.

  • MS Hug (Dysesthesia)

    Often a first symptom of MS or a relapse, an MS hug is a squeezing sensation around the torso that feels like a blood pressure cuff when it tightens.

  • Walking Gait Difficulties

    Related to several factors including weakness, spasticity, loss of balance, sensory deficit and fatigue, and can be helped by physical therapy, assistive therapy and medications.

  • Numbness or Tingling

    Numbness of the face, body, or extremities (arms and legs) is often the first symptom experienced by those eventually diagnosed as having MS.

  • Spasticity

    Spasticity is a symptom characterized by muscle stiffness and involuntary contractions. It often stems from neurological conditions, like MS. Learn more.

  • Weakness

    Weakness in MS, which results from deconditioning of unused muscles or damage to nerves that stimulate muscles, can be managed with rehabilitation strategies and the use of mobility aids and other assistive devices.

  • Vision Problems

    The first symptom of MS for many people. Optic neuritis, neuromyelitis optica, blurred vision, poor contrast or color vision, and pain on eye movement can be frightening — and should be evaluated promptly.

  • Vertigo and Dizziness

    People with MS may feel lightheaded or that they or their surroundings are spinning. These symptoms are called Dizziness and Vertigo, and can be managed.

  • Sexual Problems

    Sexual dysfunction is commonly experienced by people with MS as a result of damage to the nervous system. Learn how sexual problems can be treated.

  • Bladder Problems

    Bladder dysfunction occurs in at least 80% of people with MS. However, these bladder problems can usually be managed. Learn more about the treatment options.

  • Bowel Problems

    Constipation is a particular concern among people with MS, as is loss of control of the bowels. Bowel issues can typically be managed through diet, adequate fluid intake, physical activity and medication.

  • Pain & Itching

    Pain syndromes are common in MS. In one study, 55% of people with MS had "clinically significant pain" at some time, and almost half had chronic pain.

  • Cognitive Changes

    Changes in cognitive function are common in MS. Find out about different learning and memory exercises to help improve your cognitive health.

  • Emotional Changes

    Can be a reaction to the stresses of living with MS as well as the result of neurologic and immune changes. Anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and episodes of uncontrollable laughing and crying pose significant challenges for people with MS and their families.

  • Depression

    Depression is a common symptom of MS. Take a free, confidential screening for depression and learn more about establishing good emotional health and wellness.

Less common symptoms

  • Speech Problems

    Speech problems, including slurring (dysarthria) and loss of volume (dysphonia) occur in approximately 25-40% of people with MS, particularly later in the disease course and during periods of extreme fatigue. Stuttering is occasionally reported as well.

  • Loss of Taste

    One quarter of people diagnosed with MS experience diminished taste.

  • Swallowing Problems

    Swallowing problems — referred to as dysphagia — result from damage to the nerves controlling the many small muscles in the mouth and throat.

  • Tremor

    Tremor, or uncontrollable shaking, can occur in various parts of the body because of damaged areas along the complex nerve pathways that are responsible for coordination of movements.

  • Breathing Problems

    Respiration problems occur in people with MS whose chest muscles have been severely weakened. Review the treatments and causes of breathing issues from MS.

  • Seizures

    Seizures are not a common symptom of MS, but can be challenging for individuals who do experience this. Learn more about seizures in MS and its treatment.

  • Hearing Loss

    About 6% of people who have MS complain of impaired hearing. In very rare cases, hearing loss has been reported as the first symptom of the disease.

Secondary symptoms and the impact of disease

While the primary symptoms described on this page (more and less common) are the direct result of damage to the myelin and nerve fibers in the central nervous system (CNS), the secondary symptoms are the complications that can arise as a result of these primary symptoms. For example:

  • Bladder dysfunction can cause repeated urinary tract infections.
  • Inactivity can cause loss of muscle tone, weakness (not related to demyelination), poor posture, decreased bone density (increased risk of fracture) and shallow, inefficient breathing.
  • Immobility can cause pressure sores.

While secondary symptoms can be treated, the optimal goal is to avoid them by treating the primary symptoms.

The impact of MS on your life can lead to additional social, vocational and psychological complications. For example, if you are no longer able to drive or walk, you may not be able to hold down your usual job. The stress and strain of dealing with MS often alters social networks and sometimes fractures relationships. Problems with bladder control, tremor or swallowing may cause people to withdraw from social interactions and become isolated.

Additional resources

Invisible Symptoms in MS Part 1

Invisible Symptoms in MS Part 1

Invisible Symptoms in MS Part 2

Invisible Symptoms in MS Part 2


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