16 Early Signs You Might Have Multiple Sclerosis

Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health or diagnoses, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the immune system eats away at the insulating covers of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The resulting damage to the central nervous system then disrupts communication between the brain and the body, and may produce symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, pain and cognitive changes. It’s typically diagnosed with an MRI, neurologic exam and analyzing the patient’s medical history, as well as ruling out other conditions.

When a person begins showing early signs of the disease, it may not always be obvious (even to doctors) that MS is the culprit. Sometimes it can be helpful to hear from others who have now been diagnosed and get an idea of what their early experiences were like, so we asked our Mighty community to share signs that first indicated they had multiple sclerosis. If these signs look familiar to you, consider following up with a medical professional (remember, many diseases share symptoms, so always seek out a professional opinion). And let us know in the comments if there are any signs we missed.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

  1. My legs feeling heavy for weeks as if I had bricks tied to them; some kind of cramps in the left side of my body, not hurtful, but somehow frightening; depressions with panic attacks; a burning pain and paraesthesia in my bladder/womb region.” – Alexandra S.
  2. I forgot basic math but could do complex algebra. The main tip-off was motion sickness. Never had it before, ever, and loved roller coasters and crazy spin rides. Then suddenly they were the opposite of fun. Heat was [affecting my cognitive abilities] too. Slow subtle brain damage is super hard to notice when you’re single. Wasn’t diagnosed ’til after I was married because my husband noticed it all as not normal.” – Katrina C.O.
  3. I had bladder issues on and off from my late teens, but the most glaring example was an intense facial/eye twitch that lasted three months. I was told it was Bell’s palsy, however it would reoccur when I was hot or super stressed. This started 10 years before diagnosis and I know now it was a flare.” – Shannon D.
  4. I have transverse myelitis. My onset was 2015 but sometimes I look back at Facebook memories and makes me wonder… Have I been sick three years or more?” – Theresa B.
  5. “My first symptom of MS was pretty dramatic. I had a migraine and took a nap to try to sleep it off. When I woke up my face was numb and I just felt ‘off.’ At first, the doctors blamed it on the migraine but instead of getting better the numbness spread to the full right side of my body. Looking back I have dealt with fatigue for a long time but always blamed it on being a working mom with young kids. My doctor told me, ‘Yes all moms with young kids are tired, but you have to realize you are more tired.'” – Elsbeth R.
  6. Dizziness, numbness, fatigue, burning and stabbing pains.” – Amanda W.
  7. “One of my first signs of MS was waking up in the middle of the night with my left leg going numb. I shrugged it off, but started to connect the dots only after I had an MRI done after I passed out while my friend did my makeup. It hadn’t even been a disease on the table at the time until they said I had lesions!” – Roksi M.
  8. I remember in high school getting overheated faster than others, and always being super sweaty. Thinking about it now, I also think I had fatigue, I was always tired, but just thought everyone else felt the same. My fingers would also start to tingle if it was hot out.” – Jess L.
  9. Optic neuritis, and vertigo, horrible balance.” – Tara B.
  10. I remember losing the ability to put on a pair of jeans while standing when I was in middle school when it was a usual thing to do, and also needing to sit down a lot more often, developing tell-tale wear on the butt of all my pants. That was in the 1980s!” – Maria S.
  11. I had been falling a lot while I was out on runs. I kept rolling my ankle to the point of needing surgery to repair the injury. My hands and feet almost felt like they were on fire constantly. I thought this was due to partying too much in college. I started getting vertigo – what scared me the most was that it happened during class. I was sent for an MRI and diagnosed within an hour by my neurologist.” – Katie K.
  12. “One day while I was just driving down the road, I lost 75 percent of my vision in my right eye. I learned I had optic neuritis, and that it was the most common presenting symptom of MS – a diagnosis I would receive just over two years later.” – Sylvia L.
  13. I had word-finding difficulties and god awful fatigue. I got so tired I couldn’t lift my head, move my body or even speak, I kept dropping things, bumping into things and would be very unbalanced, repeated kidney infections, really bad chest pains which I now know as the MS hug and cognitive decline. Finally got my diagnosis after 10 years of symptoms when my legs kept giving way on me and I was having lots of falls.” – Sarah-Jane D.
  14. Lots of falls. As a child I was told I was so clumsy. In my teenage years I would miss nights out with the girls. Could never keep a fella ’cause of my lack of/nonexistent sex drive. Every day something was wrong with me as a kid!” – Wizzy J.
  15. Having my family doctor send me to several specialists for all my individual symptoms (severe vertigo, stomach issues, etc.) and stopping the search when the last one told my parents that nothing was wrong with me and that it was all in my head. Well, yeah, literally it was! It took a simple visit to an ophthalmologist (more than 10 years after symptoms first started) when I was blind in one eye to diagnose me with optic neuritis and order an MRI.” – Cyndi G.
  16. “Debilitating fatigue was one of my first symptoms. It could never be relieved by sleep, napping, diet, exercise. It only got worse as time went by.” – Abigail B.

Photo by Aniruddha Bhattacharya on Unsplash

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Multiple Sclerosis

A doctor running an MRI machine.

When the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Illness Is Give Up Control

The first time I had an MRI I figured it was just a precaution. The results would show that I was an average 35-year-old woman, just like all routine medical tests did. It was quick, easy and painless and I walked away not expecting much. My doctor suggested that I get that first MRI after [...]
woman facing away with bright light shining on her against dark background

I'm an Individual. I'm Defined by Myself – Not by My Illness.

My name is Willeke. I am a daughter, sister, cousin, granddaughter and simply a part of a special family. I am, however, also an individual. I am passionate, caring, goofy, alternative, tenacious and inquisitive. I love writing, quiet spaces, history, psychology, helping others, the English language, photography, dogs, laughing, reading newspapers, animals, books, rugby, watching [...]
A picture of the writer's red car being towed away.

What I Realized About Life With MS When My Car Died

In early 2009, I decided to buy a new car. The previous few years had been a whirlwind of activities including the birth of our first child, big career changes, finishing grad school – all sandwiched in with being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). I didn’t necessarily consider the car purchase a reward. My previous [...]
A photo of fireworks lighting up the night sky.

Why I’m Thanking People for Posting Photos of Fireworks, as Someone With MS

I used to enjoy the summer. Going out in a dress, spending time at the beach with friends, wearing my floppy hats to protect me from the sun. The time off from school, either to vacation or to work, always made me feel happy and refreshed for the start of classes in September. One of [...]