What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)?

The diagnosis of MS is based on the association of neurological symptoms associated with the presence of inflammatory plaques on MRI, which respond to spatial dissemination (brain, spinal cord, optic nerve) and temporal dissemination (inflammatory plaques of different ages or which appear over time).
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The symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Symptoms are extremely varied, depending on the area of the brain, spinal cord or optic nerves where the inflammatory attack occurs. They may include:

  • sensitivity disorders (tingling, pins and needles, a feeling of cold or dripping on the skin, a sensation of tightness or pain)
  • muscular paralysis or weakness, making it difficult to walk
  • balance problems
  • visual impairment. This results in a drop in visual acuity, which may be accompanied by pain around the eye socket, particularly when the eye is moving.

In some cases, the initial symptoms may differ between two episodes. For example, sensitivity problems in a lower limb followed a few weeks later by visual problems.

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) vary widely from one patient to another. The spread of lesions over time and in different regions of the brain and spinal cord explains the great heterogeneity of symptoms both within and between patients.

The symptoms most familiar to everyone are the motor symptoms. Difficulty walking or moving a lower or upper limb are all external signs that are visible to those around them. But some symptoms of multiple sclerosis, although very disabling for the person affected in their daily life, are not perceptible and are therefore less well understood and accepted by those close to the patient. These include fatigue and fatigability, which affects 75-95% of MS patients. This fatigue is both physical and mental, and has a considerable impact on patients’ daily lives. Another invisible symptom is cognitive impairment, which manifests itself in difficulties with attention, concentration and memory, or problems with executive functions such as decision-making, planning and organisation. Finally, mood and emotional disorders may also be present.

During the first few years, in more than 80% of cases, the disease develops in inflammatory flare-ups (relapsing-remitting form); more often than not, a flare-up sets in within a few days or months and lasts around 2 to 8 weeks. After several years, a number of patients develop a secondarily progressive form. The time taken for this form to appear varies greatly from one individual to another, and may depend on individual repair capacities. The remaining 20% of patients have an immediately progressive form. The progression and time to onset of irreversible disability vary according to the ability of each person affected to “repair” their brain damage.