No two people who have multiple sclerosis share the exact same symptoms. The nerve damage and inflammation that occurs due to the body’s immune system can attack almost any organ.
That’s why there are so many different ways that multiple sclerosis can affect the body.
Because there are so many possible symptoms, we’ve put together an organized overview of how this disease can affect different parts of the body. Though each person’s experience with multiple sclerosis is unique to their own, there are some common symptoms shared by many patients. Here is how multiple sclerosis can affect you from head to toe.
How multiple sclerosis can affect your brain
Because nerves are the main victim in multiple sclerosis, it’s no wonder that the disease can affect your brain. Made up of many congregations of nerve cells, the disease can damage the protective layer of myelin that helps your brain send effective signals to the rest of your body. When this happens, your brain gets disconnected with the rest of your body including muscles, cells, and other tissues. That’s when patients can feel dizzy or confused. Confusion and memory loss are pretty common too. Severe memory loss can sometimes appear like dementia. Sometimes, the effects are so severe that people get tremors or even seizures. Luckily, these severe consequences are rarer.
Mood changes due to effects on the brain
Multiple sclerosis can also cause changes in your brain that affect your mood, and patients can sometimes get emotional, depressed, or experience personality changes. When patients get depressed or experience emotional disturbances, it can be hard to figure out whether the cause of these changes is due to the disease itself or due to the difficulty of coping with the condition.
Multiple sclerosis can produce short-term effects on the eyes
The most common first sign of multiple sclerosis is eye problems. Many people find out they have multiple sclerosis when they go to the doctor to check out blurry vision or eye pain that appeared suddenly one day and couldn’t be explained. Vision changes associated with this disease include double vision, pain, and loss of visual contrast that can happen in both eyes. Most of the time, these visual changes are only temporary and resolve on their own. It’s actually due to the inflammation and fatigue of the eye muscles due to this disease. Sometimes, multiple sclerosis can permanently affect the eyes. When this happens, people usually can be successfully treated with a course of steroids. Luckily, most cases of permanent vision changes are relatively mild.
Multiple sclerosis can cause hearing loss
Rarely, hearing loss or even deafness can happen to multiple sclerosis patients. Fortunately, they usually go away on their own, but some cases can be permanent. These hearing problems occur because the disease has affected neurons in the brain stem.
The disease can affect your ability to speak, breathe, and swallow
Sometimes, speaking problems can occur to people with multiple sclerosis This can encompass a wide range of speech problems including slurring, difficulty articulating, and poor volume control. Up to 40% of patients with multiple sclerosis will experience these issues, which are more common when going through a relapse or when you’re really tired.
Related to speaking problems, sometimes multiple sclerosis can cause breathing problems too. This is because the nerves controlling chest muscles involved in respiration can become affected. These difficulties usually worsen with progressing multiple sclerosis. It’s a dangerous consequence of multiple sclerosis and requires help from a professional respiratory therapist.
Though less common, swallowing difficulties can also happen to people with multiple sclerosis. These issues are dangerous because, without proper swallowing, a person can choke on their food or drinks and inhale it into their lungs. This introduces bacteria and ultimately you can get a serious infection. If you or your loved one has multiple sclerosis, any signs of coughing and choking while eating or drinking needs to be evaluated by a doctor right away.
Multiple sclerosis affects the arms and legs
The disease can affect arms and leg muscles, making motor skills difficult. Patients might find trouble with their hand-eye coordination and balance. When affected by the disease, your extremities can also experience pain, numbness, and tingling sensations. As the disease worsens, walking becomes more and more difficult.
Multiple sclerosis can affect the quality of your bones
Having trouble with motor function can impact your bones as well. Due to the increased inactivity, you are more at risk for osteoporosis. Ways to help prevent this loss in bone density include increase exercise, dietary changes, or taking supplements. Weak bone is especially dangerous for multiple sclerosis patients who are at higher risk for falling.
Taking vitamin D can help to improve skeletal and immune system health. It’s unsure of what role this plays in multiple sclerosis, though there is some evidence that its deficiency is an important factor in the development of multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis can make you incontinent
Disease damage to nerves controlling the bladder and bowel are extremely common, with bladder issues affecting about 80 percent of multiple sclerosis patients. Problems with the bowel include constipation and diarrhea, and sometimes you can help manage these issues by sticking to special diets and exercise. If that fails, medication and surgery are options for better control.
Fertility issues and multiple sclerosis
Right now, there is no data to support a relationship between multiple sclerosis and fertility in either men or women. However, pregnancy seems to help women with multiple sclerosis. Many women experience remission while they are pregnant. On the flip side, 20-40 percent of these women relapse after they give birth. Researchers are still exploring the relationships between pregnancy and multiple sclerosis relapses.
Sexual dysfunction is also a common feature in multiple sclerosis patients. There are various reasons that could explain this, including the fact that the disease might be damaging the nerves involved. Damage to nerves, feelings of fatigue, and emotional changes associated with this condition are all reasons that contribute to someone’s lack of libido. Medications and counseling are both effective ways to help improve libido in multiple sclerosis patients.
Multiple sclerosis can affect your heart
Though it’s thankfully rare, multiple sclerosis can also cause issues with the cardiovascular system. Weak chest muscles result in shallow breathing and low oxygen circulation in the blood. The lack of physical activity because of depression and fatigue aren’t helpful for your health either. Many of these factors contribute to the higher risk for heart disease seen in people with multiple sclerosis.
Recently, a study found a higher risk of cardiovascular problems in women who suffer from multiple sclerosis. These issues include serious consequences including heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. It appears that physical exercise is a huge factor that helps alleviate multiple sclerosis symptoms and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. If necessary, it’s helpful to also bring in the support of a physical therapist to work with someone with progressive multiple sclerosis.