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Is MS a Painful Disease?

Ask a Doctor

I’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I saw the doctor for eye pain and vision loss. She sent me to a neurologist, who confirmed I had optic neuritis as the beginning stage of MS. I’m worried about the progression of the disease. Is MS painful?

Doctor’s Response

Yes, unfortunately, MS can cause pain, both through its own progression and secondary infections and conditions that can affect the weakened body.

The symptoms of MS can be different from person to person. Visual, sensory, and motor signs and symptoms are all part of MS. The clinical manifestations are varied, and therefore there is a wide range of symptoms that can appear. Some people have mild cases of MS with little or no disability over the years. Others have more severe types of MS, requiring confinement to a wheelchair or bed.

A large number of people with multiple sclerosis develop optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve, which is an extension of the central nervous system), described as a painful vision loss. If a patient is diagnosed with optic neuritis early, treatment could change the course of the disease. The tissues around the eye and moving the eye may be painful.

Multiple sclerosis commonly affects the cerebellum, the portion of the brain responsible for balance and fine motor coordination. Consequently, people with multiple sclerosis often have difficulty maintaining their balance when walking and performing delicate tasks with their hands. Unexplained dropping of a cup or other object or unusual weakness can occur.

  • Patients may experience facial pain, a sensation of spinning referred to as vertigo, and sometimes hearing loss.
  • Virtually any area of the body can be involved, making this disease the great imitator of other disorders of the nervous system.
    • The patient may experience painful muscle spasms or loss of strength in one or more of the arms or legs.
    • The nerve fibers that conduct touch, pain, and temperature sensations are often affected, causing tingling, numbness or electrical-type pain sensations in the chest, abdomen, arms, or legs.
  • Multiple sclerosis can involve the nerves responsible for involuntary actions of the bladder and intestines.
    • The patient may often have constipation and urinary retention.
    • These symptoms lead to other complications, such as infections of the bladder, kidney, or blood.
  • Most people with multiple sclerosis complain of a constant state of tiredness. Around 70% of people with multiple sclerosis report fatigue. Something as simple as carrying groceries up a flight of stairs may become an impossible task for someone with multiple sclerosis.
  • A peculiar trait of multiple sclerosis is the relationship between higher temperatures and the worsening of symptoms.
    • People often complain of worsening of any of their symptoms after taking a hot shower, or participating in strenuous exercise.
    • The exact reason this occurs is unknown. Perhaps it is because at higher temperatures nerve conduction decreases, which could lead to further slowing in the transmission of messages in nerves that have already lost myelin.
  • Seizures occur in about 5% of people with multiple sclerosis.
  • Those affected may complain of sleep disturbances, depression, or may feel that they are experiencing changes in attention span or memory.

For more information, please read our full medical article on multiple sclerosis

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Reviewed on 3/16/2018
References
Luzzio, C., MD. "Multiple Sclerosis." Medscape. Updated Jan 27, 2016.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1146199-overview>

National Instututes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Multiple Sclerosis Information Page.
<https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/all-disorders/multiple-sclerosis-Information-Page>

National MS Society. "What Is MS?"
<http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS>
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