Are you worried that the symptoms you are experiencing may be multiple sclerosis (MS)?
You may have looked up MS on the internet and read about symptoms that sound like those you are experiencing. Someone in your family may have MS and you are concerned that you may also get it.
Here are some questions often asked by people worried they may have MS. We look at the common early signs of MS, and how to get a diagnosis. You can also call our enquiry service if you have further questions.
Are my symptoms the early signs of MS?
There is a wide range of possible symptoms but most people experience only a small number around the time of diagnosis and won't go on to experience them all.
Some of the most common early signs are:
- fatigue (a kind of exhaustion which is out of all proportion to the task undertaken)
- stumbling more than before
- unusual feelings in the skin (such as pins and needles or numbness)
- slowed thinking
- problems with eyesight.
There are other symptoms of MS but these are less commonly experienced early in the course of the condition.
All of these early symptoms can also be symptoms of other medical conditions. If you are worried that you have symptoms of MS, it is important to consult a health professional so that you can get the correct diagnosis. There is no definitive test for MS and diagnosis will involve considering the various symptoms and ruling out other explanations. This process can take some time.
What are the symptoms of MS?
Making Sense of MS: Jane Metcalfe, MS Specialist Nurse, and Ben Turner, Consultant neurologist, discuss some of the most common symptoms of MS.
Who should I talk to about my symptoms?
In the first instance, talk to your GP about the symptoms you are experiencing. The GP can't make a diagnosis of MS, but can assess your symptoms and rule out alternative conditions that could be causing your symptoms. In May 2019, NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) issued new guidance to GPs to help them identify people who may have a neurological condition and who should be referred to a specialist.
If your GP cannot rule out MS after the tests they have done, they can make a referral to an appropriate specialist. A neurologist specialises in nervous system disorders including MS, although not all neurologists are specialists in MS in particular. If your GP does not think your symptoms are due to multiple sclerosis, they may refer you to another specialist if they think it is more appropriate.
Find out more about the pathway to diagnosis and the tests that might be requested in our section on MS diagnosis.
How can I prepare for an appointment?
The range of symptoms you may be experiencing can be overwhelming and it may be difficult to put across how they are affecting you.
Before the appointment, it can be useful to keep a symptom diary, noting:
- what symptoms you are experiencing and how long ago they started
- how often and when symptoms occur
- whether they come and go or are more persistent
- the severity of symptoms - this can be a simple scale such as 1 for good days through to 5 for bad days
- how the symptoms affect everyday activities
- anything that seems to trigger symptoms or makes them feel worse or better
It is also worth noting:
- other health conditions that you may have
- any medication you are taking - both prescribed and over the counter
- medical conditions affecting other people in your family
Preparing this information in advance can help you better explain the symptoms you are experiencing and may help you to get the most out of your appointment. You might like to prepare a brief summary of your diary entries. This should be on a single piece of paper, perhaps as a list or a table. You could give this to your health professional as an overview.
How can I cope with uncertainty?
It may take some time to find a diagnosis for your symptoms. You may talk to several health professionals and have a range of tests. Not all of these tests will be tests for MS. For example, MS can't be diagnosed from a blood test, but you may have some of these to rule out other possible explanations for your symptoms.
Understanding how your journey to diagnosis is going can be helpful during this period.
- At the end of an appointment, find out what the next steps will be and what further tests might be tried
- If further appointments are needed, ask when can you expect these to happen
- Ask to be copied into letters between the consultant and your GP
- If you don't understand something ask the health professional to explain, perhaps in a different way
- If you are unhappy with the way the diagnosis is being handled, you can ask your GP to refer you to a different specialist for a second opinion. Although there is no legal right to a second opinion, requests are usually accepted.
You may feel stressed or run down from living with unexplained symptoms. If this is the case, talk to your GP about whether you can be referred to a counsellor to help you find ways to cope with living with this uncertainty.
What if I don’t get a diagnosis?
It is sometimes a question of watching and waiting to see how symptoms develop as this can help distinguish MS from the other possibilities. All this can be very frustrating and worrying but it is quite a common experience.
If your health professionals are unable to give you a diagnosis at the moment, you should be able to agree a plan with them. For example, you might agree that a follow up appointment takes place in six months or a year’s time but with the option for you to get in contact sooner if you have significant new symptoms or become more severely affected.
It will be your responsibility to keep pushing for a diagnosis whilst acknowledging that this is not always straightforward and can take time. Make sure you know which health professional to contact, should your symptoms change or worsen.
Are there any treatments for my symptoms?
It is important to remember that some symptoms can be treated before your diagnosis is confirmed. Talk to your GP about what can be done to help you manage the symptoms you are experiencing now.
Find out about the different types of MS symptoms and which of them are the most common.
A to Z of MS
The A to Z of MS contains a wide range of information about MS such as, symptoms and treatments, medical information and all aspects of living with MS.
Risk of developing MS
In the general population in the UK, about 1 in 650 people has multiple sclerosis (MS) with genes and environmental factors both playing a role. Read more about the risk of developing MS in this A-Z entry.