Signs and Symptoms of MS
Multiple Sclerosis can cause a wide range of symptoms and there’s no exact list of early signs. A first symptom of MS for one person may never be experienced by someone else.
There’s no typical pattern that applies to everyone – people can have different symptoms at different times.
A problem with vision, known as optic neuritis, is one of the more obvious early symptoms. This is often because it’s a more ‘concrete’ symptom as opposed to ‘vaguer’ neurological symptoms like numbness or tingling. You shouldn’t assume these symptoms are a sign of MS though – not everyone who experiences them will get an MS diagnosis.
MS symptoms can include:
- Vision problems
- Tingling and numbness
- Loss of balance and dizziness
- Pains and spasms
- Bladder or bowel issues
- Sexual dysfunction
- Cognitive problems with memory and thinking
If you’ve searched for symptoms online or you know someone with MS, it may be at the front of your mind. But many symptoms of MS can also be symptoms of other conditions.
Only a neurologist can diagnose MS. If your GP thinks your symptoms need further investigation, they’ll refer you to a specialist. It’s best to make an appointment with your GP about any symptom that worries you.
Some people describe this period of time as ‘limbo’ – where they don’t have a diagnosis but they’re experiencing symptoms.
Getting an MS Diagnosis
If you feel you are experiencing symptoms that may be MS the first person to see is your GP. Your GP cannot diagnose MS, only a neurologist can do this. A GP will ask about your symptoms and likely carry out an examination of your nervous system. They may arrange blood tests. If you are having trouble with your vision they may recommend you see an optician.
Your GP may refer you to a neurologist if they suspect you have a neurological condition like MS. Suspected cases of MS should be seen by a neurologist as soon as possible, however, unless seen as urgent, it may take several weeks for an appointment.
Seeing a Neurologist
At the Auckland hospital there are currently a number of neurologists who you can see, however there are two who specialise in MS – Jennifer Pereira and Ernie Willoughby. They both can also be seen in private practice, if you have insurance or don’t mind paying for the consultation fee.
The neurologist will ask you a lot of questions about your symptoms, how long you’ve had them for and how they’ve changed over time. They will carry out an examination of your walking, movements, coordination, balance, reflexes, speech and eyes. They will want to rule out other conditions first, before confirming a diagnosis of MS.
The main test used now to diagnose MS is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), but this may be backed up with other tests to rule out other conditions.
Seeing the MS Auckland Community Team
The hospital team works closely with MS Auckland, who provide community outreach and a wide range of information and services.
Waiting for a diagnosis, or being newly diagnosed, can be an anxious time. Our Community Advisors can help you through this time. They can visit you in your home and, while not medical staff, they are trained and experienced with MS and can help answer any further questions you or your family members may have.
The Community Advisors can also provide you with more information and suggest Support Groups, Exercise Groups, Peer Support people, or other activities, workshops or resources that may help you during this time.