11 Silent Signs of Multiple Sclerosis It’s Easy to Overlook
The autoimmune disorder MS is called "the great masquerader" because its symptoms are so easy to brush off as something else. If you have any of these MS symptoms, get them checked out by a doctor.
Your socks don’t match
Everyone has days where they show up to work wearing one black sock and one blue sock. But if you frequently have a hard time telling colors apart, especially when it used to be easy for you, that is a red flag. Becoming partially blind, color blind, or blind in one eye is one of the primary MS symptoms, says Clifford Segil, DO, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “It’s called optic neuritis and it happens because of a loss of insulation around the optic nerves in the brain,” he explains. Here are other surprising diseases your eye doctor could detect early.
You can drink a pitcher of margaritas and never use the bathroom
While this might seem like a handy talent, drinking a lot and yet hardly peeing is not a good thing. This painful symptom, a hallmark of multiple sclerosis, is often one of the first that drives people to see a doctor. Any change in urinary frequency can be a sign of MS, Dr. Segil says, but most often it’s not being able to urinate for more than 24 hours. On the other hand, check out the medical reasons why you need to pee all the time.
You’re covered in bruises from tripping and falling
Clumsiness is one of the most overlooked MS symptoms because it’s kind of embarrassing. People may just think they have bad balance but having weakness in one or both of your legs—which often first manifests as tripping, stumbling, unsteadiness, and falling—could be a sign that something is wrong with your motor nerves, Dr. Segil says. Unexplained bruises are also one of the silent signs of leukemia you shouldn’t ignore.
Your clothing feels funny
“My patients often say that their body just feels different, on a sensory level, from one part to the next,” Dr. Segil explains. “For example, when they put on their shirt, it feels differently sliding over their chest than it does going over their stomach.” The sensory issues can be hard to explain but he says you’ll know it if you experience them, as they’re a very strange sensation.
Your fingers are tingly but your arm hasn’t fallen asleep
We’re all familiar with that prickly pins-and-needles feeling when we stand up after we’ve leaned on an arm or leg for too long, temporarily cutting off blood flow. But if you get numbness, burning, or a tingly sensation in your extremities for no apparent reason, that’s something you need to get checked out. It can be a sign of many illnesses, MS included.
You’re dizzy, no roller coaster required
Constant vertigo (for no apparent reason) is another symptom of multiple sclerosis, Dr. Segil says. The nerve damage from the illness primarily affects your motor, sensory, and coordination abilities, which can lead to feelings of disorientation and dizziness.
Your friends complain about your terrible texts
“One of the first things we often see in MS patients is the inability to text, type, use a cellphone or tablet, or do other things that require fine motor control,” Dr. Segil explains, adding that it usually means there is an MS lesion in the back region of the brain.
Your coffee cup doesn’t feel hot—even though you just poured it
Did you really just pick up that hot pan without thinking about it? Why does your coffee taste warm but you can’t feel it through the mug? The inability to feel temperature changes with your hands is another sign you may have MS-induced nerve damage, Dr. Segil says.
You’re a young adult
One of the most common MS symptoms is simply your age; multiple sclerosis is usually diagnosed in young adulthood, during your 20s or 30s. While it is certainly possible to get an MS diagnosis earlier or later in life, one of the greatest tragedies of the autoimmune disease is that it often strikes people in their physical prime. But the earlier MS is caught, the earlier you can start treatment and the better you can protect your nervous system.
You can’t find your fork—and then realize you’re holding it
Who hasn’t “lost” their sunglasses only to have a friend laughingly point out they are on your head? But if you’re not just having a forgetful moment—if you really can’t feel that you’re holding or touching an object—then you need to see a doctor, stat. Losing feeling in your fingers and hands is a red flag for MS, Dr. Segil says.
You don’t have anything else
“Multiple sclerosis is considered one of the ‘great masqueraders’, along with lupus, because its symptoms are so easily attributed to other causes or illnesses,” Dr. Segil explains. “Because the symptoms depend entirely on which nerves are affected, no two patients present exactly the same.” This means that MS is often diagnosed only after everything else is ruled out. If you feel poorly and have strange sensory-motor symptoms, it’s important to make sure you’re tested. To get a definitive diagnosis you’ll need an MRI scan, which can show “lesions” or spots of demyelination, where the disease has eaten away at the protective coating over your nerves in your brain and spine, he says. Learn what it’s like to be diagnosed with—and live with—multiple sclerosis.