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MS Symptoms


Updated June 13, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Speech-Related Symptoms

Some people with MS report having difficulty speaking, often due to slurred speech. Others struggle with understanding language. Still others “lose words” mid-sentence, or switch words or syllables when speaking. These difficulties are probably related to the cognitive symptoms discussed below.

Cognitive Symptoms

About 50% of people with MS experience cognitive difficulties, although some estimates are closer to 80%. These symptoms are usually seen as problems with attention, memory and concentration. Some people with MS have difficulty making decisions, thinking abstractly and generalizing.

These cognitive problems are not usually severe and may not be directly noticed by the person with MS. Friends and family members are sometimes better at estimating cognitive changes than the person with MS.

Read more about cognitive symptoms and multiple sclerosis:

Mental Health Symptoms

Many MS patients (some estimate that as many as 50%) suffer from depression at some point. While this is sometimes a reaction to the effects that MS is having on their lives, often this depression is directly caused by MS itself.

Depression can also be a side effect of the interferon disease-modifying therapies (Avonex, Rebif and Betaseron). Regardless of the cause, it is important to seek help for depression.

About 10% of MS patients also are affected by other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and paranoia. Five percent may suffer from “laughing/weeping syndrome,” also called involuntary emotional expression disorder (IEED) or pseudobulbar affect, which causes the person to experience periods of laughing or crying that are unrelated to their mood or an event.

Read more about mental health symptoms of multiple sclerosis:

Bladder and Bowel Symptoms

Dysfunction in the workings of the bladder or bowels occurs in up to 80% of people with MS. These symptoms appear as difficulty urinating (urinary hesitancy), a sudden urge to urinate (urinary urgency), or leakage of urine or loss of control of urination (frequent urination or incontinence). Bowel symptoms usually manifest as constipation, although diarrhea can also occur. Many of these types of symptoms can be managed with medications combined with modifications in diet, fluid intake and habits.

Read more about bladder and bowel symptoms of multiple sclerosis:

Sexual Dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction is estimated to effect about 80% of people with MS at some point. This symptom ranges from a lack of interest in sexual activity to a loss of sensation during sex. Men can experience difficulty maintaining an erection, while women may not become lubricated or be able to achieve orgasm.

Read more about sexual dysfunction and multiple sclerosis:

Heat Sensitivity

In most MS patients, warm temperatures or an increase in the body’s temperature from exertion can cause a temporary worsening of MS symptoms. Things return to normal once body temperature is reduced. Cooling products, common sense and avoiding sources of heat (like steam rooms) can prevent heat-related symptoms.


National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research. NIH Publication No. 96-75. Last updated February 09, 2007.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Multiple Sclerosis

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