Over two million people worldwide have multiple sclerosis. This degenerative nerve disease attacks the myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells, leaving them prone to damage. Many factors affect your likelihood of getting this disease. Your age, ethnicity, and health history influence whether this condition develops. However, if you see any of the following symptoms regularly, you may want to talk to your doctor.
Muscle Spasms and Tension
One of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis is muscle spasms and tension. When the protective sheath around nerve cells wears away, the electrical signals that dictate muscle movement become convoluted on their way to the brain. When these signals get twisted and confused, muscle groups begin to spasm and clench instead of contracting and releasing like normal. These spasms can be anywhere from uncomfortable to debilitating, with some contractions causing difficulty moving.
In the beginning stages of MS, this spasticity can simply appear as chronic muscle stiffness or weakness in the appendages. Over time, the nerves will continue to deteriorate, and the muscle damage will worsen. One of the symptoms of this muscle weakness is known as the MS hug. This specific aspect of muscle tension shows up as a band of pressure around the chest or abdomen. If you’re experiencing tightness in your chest and are unsure whether it’s MS or a typical illness, it may help to ask your doctor, “What does the MS hug feels like?” Your doctor or neurologist will be able to look at your symptoms and determine what the cause is. If your muscles tend to tense up and spasm without any apparent cause, you may want to talk to your doctor.
Another common symptom of multiple sclerosis is chronic fatigue. There are two common causes of fatigue in people living with MS: initial nerve damage and outward symptoms. The initial damage to the central nervous system, or CNS, causes the brain to make new neural pathways to carry out regular commands. Because old connections were damaged, the brain has to work around the damage to complete standard body processes like movement, cognition, and even digestion. Rewiring the brain to complete these actions requires a lot of energy, which causes chronic fatigue. Rest helps in some cases, but many MS patients say their exhaustion never truly goes away.
The other leading cause of chronic fatigue in MS patients is outward symptoms. It’s no secret that multiple sclerosis comes with discomfort, pain, and poor mental health. These symptoms are exhausting to the body. Dealing with these issues daily can make even the strongest person tired and overwhelmed, both mentally and physically. During a flare-up, it’s not uncommon for sleep to be disturbed, which only prolongs the cycle of fatigue. If you’re constantly exhausted and can’t seem to get enough rest no matter how much you sleep, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting tested for MS.
Reduced Processing Speed
Finally, multiple sclerosis causes reduced processing speed and a lower cognitive rate. When the myelin sheaths surrounding the nerves dissolve, electrical signals can’t be transported around the brain as quickly. These signals are the basis of thought, memory, and even speech. While neuroplasticity allows new connections to form, that takes time. The broken and damaged nerve junctions slow down the processing speed in the mind, which will often show in speech and memory. Many people with MS have trouble recalling words, speaking clearly, and focusing on tasks. While occupational therapy can help speed up cognition, it takes time and patience.
Multiple sclerosis can also bring mental health issues with it. It’s not uncommon for MS patients to develop depression and anxiety due to their sudden difficulty thinking clearly. While these mental health disorders aren’t directly caused by MS, the hardships the disease brings can heavily contribute to new and worsening symptoms. If you’re experiencing sudden difficulty thinking clearly, remembering things, or even have gotten rapidly depressed, talking to your doctor about MS testing may help ease your mind.
Overall, multiple sclerosis is manageable. While there’s no existing cure for this condition, the symptoms can be managed with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. If you’re concerned about having MS, talk to a doctor or neurologist today.