What Are the Most Common Symptoms of MS?

Mobility Issues

This is, by far, my worse symptom. What started off as a slight dragging of my right foot has developed into foot drop in both feet as well as an inability to lift my knees.

This makes walking extremely difficult, and sometimes I get stuck because I can’t move my right foot. I have to cling on to door frames or furniture while leading with my left foot and dragging my right behind me.

Stairs have become impossible, so I now live in a single story house with access around the back. This has been a gradual process though, and I believe smoking had a considerable impact on me, and I wish I’d quit when I was first diagnosed.

Thankfully, there are solutions to mobility difficulties, and these will vary depending on your problem and its severity.

Mobility Aids

  • Walking sticks – I started out with one stick, and I remember being horrified with having to use one. Now I wish I could go back to that time! I then needed two sticks as my balance started to get worse, but I found this so difficult and was unable to hold anything while walking.
  • Walker – this is where you hold on to a frame, sometimes with wheels, and push it along to help you walk. I need to invest in one of these as I worry about losing muscle tone in my legs and would like the gentle exercise.
  • Wheelchair – the ultimate walking aid! This is such a big step though, and you need to feel ready and accept you can’t walk as well as you used to.
  • Mobility scooter – this is what I use and feel free by finally accepting my need for wheels! I find people ignore you in a wheelchair but don’t in a mobility scooter and I haven’t figured out why this is.

I found that trying to keep mobile was so exhausting that it made everything else impossible. Now I use a scooter I can keep working, go out with friends and family and be as independent as possible. It also reduces the impact fatigue has on me, preventing further relapses.


Cognitive Problems

Cognition refers to memory and thinking and describes how we concentrate, multitask, learn and remember things, reason and solve problems among other things.

Cognitive function is also linked to fatigue above, and we can experience cognitive fatigue if we try and carry out any of the above functions. Cognition has an impact on all aspects of our lives, so some people may have to stop working because of it.

I have a friend with MS who can no longer read a book as she can’t remember the plot and who finds it hard to follow a conversation when there are too many people. I don’t experience these problems unless I’m exhausted or have been at work all day.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d swap my physical symptoms for cognitive ones and don’t think I would. I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t read a book or write my articles! Also, I value my career and the self-esteem my work gives me. I find a good rest helps with my cognitive fatigue and my symptoms quickly return to normal.    

Bladder and Bowel Problems

This is my second worse symptom! I can’t empty my bladder properly so need to urinate frequently, and with such bad mobility issues, I find it can rule my life! I take medication for urgency as sometimes the need comes on so quickly and I can’t hold it.

Intermittent self-catheterization is used by many MSers to empty the bladder fully and avoid associated complications, but I found this difficult to get the hang of so tend to plan my life around where the nearest accessible toilet is. I also make sure I monitor how much I drink if I’m going on long journeys.

Bowel problems include incontinence and constipation and can also have a significant impact on quality of life. I manage my constipation by eating well and using a stool softener once a week, but incontinence is harder to control.

Sight Problems

Many people with MS suffer from blurred vision, eye movement issues, and optic neuritis. I’m lucky in that, so far, I’ve only experienced eye problems when I’m extremely fatigued, and symptoms tend to recover quickly. I can get blurred vision when I’m tired but don’t need to wear glasses which is an achievement in a 43-year-old!

One of my first ever symptoms was optic neuritis, and many MSers seek their first treatment because of a scary attack of this in one or both eyes. I developed it in my right eye, and I could only see straight in front of me and everywhere else was blurred and fuzzy. It occurs when the optic nerve is inflamed and can cause vision problems and even blindness. Luckily is usually gets better on its own and I had a course of steroids to help it heal.

Swallowing Difficulties

Another distressing symptom is when swallowing becomes difficult. Changes can occur subtly over a period of time and can include changes in your speech, problems chewing, food sticking in your throat or coming back up. I’ve also experienced coughing and spluttering during meals and food going down the wrong way.

It’s important to keep an eye on these symptoms and report any changes to your healthcare team as these problems can cause complications later.

Next page: Information on MS symptoms including pain, numbness, and relapses. Plus tips on managing new symptoms of MS.

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