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What are the early signs of MS?

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Multiple sclerosis may come with a long list of possible symptoms, but you’re unlikely to experience them all. The symptoms you do experience may not be permanent and may vary in intensity. MS affects people in different ways.

Article medically reviewed by Karen Vernon an MS Nursing Specialist at Salford Royal Foundation Trust, UK.

Just like many other types of medical conditions, identifying multiple sclerosis as early as possible can really help to reach a quick diagnosis and therefore start possible treatment sooner. 

So, what are the early signs of MS? Well, this is the tricky part. The first signs of MS can be hard to detect. They might feel very similar to everyday symptoms that could quite easily be put down to something else, like a bit of numbness in one hand, pins and needles in an arm, fatigue. 

“This is my first post. I am not yet diagnosed - waiting for a first MRI in a week. I have Lhermitte’s, and a pulsating buzzing that is moving around my body. Started in the lower back then went to thigh and abdomen, then top of feet, then behind the knee. It’s been pretty constant in the belly but otherwise moves around every day or so. Has anyone had anything like this. I’m pretty scared.” @Kalyani108

Early symptoms of MS can be subtle and gradual, and they can come and go, which means some MSers can be living with them for years, without recognising the need for seeking advice and pursuing a diagnosis. 

As we know, everyone is affected by MS differently, and everyone’s story varies. If you’re feeling concerned about any unusual symptoms you’re experiencing, get in touch with your doctor as a starting point to share your worries.

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When does MS start?

Multiple sclerosis can start at any age, though it’s important to note the difference between ‘starting’ and being diagnosed. There’s a key difference. Typically, multiple sclerosis is diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40 years old – though it can be younger or older – but symptoms can be noticed years before an official diagnosis. It’s also more common in women than men; up to two or three times more common, according to the NHS.

Regardless of your age or gender, you shouldn’t ignore potential symptoms of MS. Understanding the first signs, and the early signs, of multiple sclerosis, and seeking professional support as quickly as possible can help you to manage those symptoms.

What are the early signs of MS?

If you’re experiencing strange or unusual symptoms, these could be the early signs of MS – but they could be an indication of another condition too, so don’t rush into making a self-diagnosis. As tempting as it is to spend time Googling your symptoms, it’s not always productive – it can make you worry and panic more than you need to during what can already be a confusing time.

If you have any concerns about your health, you must speak to your doctor. Remember to take note of the timelines of your symptoms, for example: when they started, how did they affect you, how long have you felt a symptom, and have they gone away. 

As well as seeking medical guidance, you can talk to Shift.ms members about what you suspect might be the early signs of MS. Our community has been exactly where you are now, and initial symptoms of multiple sclerosis are one of the most popular topics our members discuss. If you’re a member of Shift.ms you can read more about the first early symptoms of MS here.

Early signs of MS that our members often report are below. It’s important to remember that while this is a long list of symptoms, you are very unlikely to experience all of them. Every MSer’s experience of MS is different.

  • Tingling, pins and needles, lack of feeling in the arms or legs
  • A shock like sensation that sufferers can feel in their spine, legs, neck, arms - which can feel like an electric shock in some cases
  • Vertigo type sensations
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs, or unsteady legs
  • Numbness in the wrist – which could be mistaken for carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Visual disturbances such as double vision or loss of vision, in one eye or both
  • Issues with memory and/or concentration
  • Difficulty swallowing food or fluids
  • Struggling to write or form a fist
  • Lhermitte’s sign (or Lhermitte’s phenomena) – more on this below

You can watch some members of the Shift.ms community talking about their MS symptoms in this video.

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What is Lhermitte’s sign (Lhermitte’s phenomena)?

Lhermitte’s sign frequently pops up during any discussion of early signs of MS. But, what is it? The chances are that you’ve never heard of it before, but it’s something you might experience as a symptom of multiple sclerosis – although Lhermitte’s sign isn’t exclusive to someone who has MS.

Lhermitte’s sign is like an electric shock. It tends to start in the neck and is typically triggered when someone leans forward, bending their neck. The painful sensation can move down the back, into arms and legs, and fingers and toes. It’s not a constant pain; it lasts for a few seconds, but can feel very painful in that time for some people. For others, it can be less painful, more of a buzzing feeling.

‘I am getting a new weird sensation and it sounds similar to that of Lhermitte’s sign but slightly different. Everytime my head is bent forward for whatever reason (I look down), my whole arm from shoulder to fingertips goes completely numb and tingling. This then stops when my head is back in a forward position.’ @Sammbate

You might have Lhermitte’s sign because of MS, but it can also affect someone who doesn’t have MS. Either way, if this is something that’s impacting you and your health, make an appointment with your doctor.

Early symptoms of multiple sclerosis – whatever they may be – will inevitably cause worry, and you’ll have a lot of questions. Write down your questions before seeing a  healthcare professional, and ensure you are keeping notes on your symptoms to discuss with your doctor. Consultations can be stressful experiences and it’s easy to forget important questions; a record of your symptoms – their frequency, how they affect you, when they started, when/if they’ve ended – will help both you and your doctor understand your circumstances better. 

A diagnosis may still be a way off, but you can find support in the company of our community of MSers. It’s free to join our forum and connect with others who are experiencing the same things as you.

Shift.ms members have been exactly where you are now, and can provide support, advice and understanding. Join our community to connect with other MSers – it’s free



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