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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Multiple sclerosis


* Not a rare disease
Other Names for this Disease
  • MS
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What are the signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

The peak age of onset is between ages 20 and 40, although it may develop in children and has also been identified in individuals over 60 years of age. The most common signs and symptoms include sensory disturbance of the limbs; partial or complete visual loss; acute and subacute motor dysfunction of the limbs; diplopia (double vision); and gait dysfunction. These signs and symptoms may occur alone or in combination, and have to be present for a minimum of 24 hours to be considered a "clinical attack." The signs and symptoms in individuals with MS are extremely variable, even among affected relatives within families.[1] Symptoms vary because the location and severity of each attack can be different. Episodes can last for days, weeks, or months. These episodes alternate with periods of reduced or no symptoms (remissions). While it is common for the disease to return (relapse), the disease may continue to get worse without periods of remission. Because nerves in any part of the brain or spinal cord may be damaged, patients with multiple sclerosis can have symptoms in many parts of the body.[2]

Muscle symptoms may include loss of balance, muscle spasms, numbness or abnormal sensation in any area, problems moving arms or legs, problems walking, problems with coordination and making small movements, and tremor or weakness in one or more arms or legs. Bowel and bladder symptoms may include constipation and stool leakage, difficulty beginning to urinate, frequent need or strong urge to urinate, and incontinence. Eye symptoms may include double vision, eye discomfort, uncontrollable rapid eye movements, and vision loss. There may be numbness, tingling, or pain in the face, muscles, arms or legs. Other brain and nerve symptoms may include decreased attention span, poor judgment, and memory loss; difficulty reasoning and solving problems; depression or feelings of sadness; dizziness and balance problems; and hearing loss. Individuals may also have slurred or difficult-to-understand speech, trouble chewing and swallowing, and sexual symptoms such as problems with erections or vaginal lubrication.[2]
Last updated: 3/30/2011

  1. Olaf Stüve, Jorge Oksenberg. Multiple Sclerosis Overview. GeneReviews. May 11, 2010; Accessed 3/30/2011.
  2. David Zieve. Multiple Sclerosis. PubMed Health. August 5, 2010; Accessed 3/30/2011.