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Multiple Sclerosis – sign symptoms, disability scale


Symptoms reflect the location of the area of demyelination.

A person with MS can suffer almost any neurological symptom or sign, including changes in sensation such as loss of sensitivity or tingling, pricking or numbness, muscle weakness, clonus, muscle spasms or difficulty in moving; difficulties with coordination and balance (ataxia); problems in speech ( dysarthria) or swallowing (dysphagia), visual problems ( nystagmus, optic neuritis ), fatigue, pain and bladder and bowel difficulties. Cognitive impairment of varying degrees and emotional symptoms of depression or unstable mood are also common.

Uhthoff’s phenomenon, an exacerbation of extant symptoms due to an exposure to higher than usual ambient temperatures, and Lhermitte’s sign, an electrical sensation that runs down the back when bending the neck, are particularly characteristic of MS although not specific. The main clinical measure of disability progression and symptom severity is the Expanded Disability Status Scale or EDSS.

Kurtzke Expanded Disability Status Scale

0.0 Normal neurological examination
1.0 No disability, minimal signs in one FS
1.5 No disability, minimal signs in more than one FS
2.0 Minimal disability in one FS
2.5 Mild disability in one FS or minimal disability in two FS
3.0 Moderate disability in one FS, or mild disability in three or four FS. Fully ambulatory
3.5 Fully ambulatory but with moderate disability in one FS and more than minimal disability in several others
4.0 Fully ambulatory without aid, self-sufficient, up and about some 12 hours a day despite relatively severe disability; able to walk without aid or rest some 500 meters
4.5 Fully ambulatory without aid, up and about much of the day, able to work a full day, may otherwise have some limitation of full activity or require minimal assistance; characterized by relatively severe disability; able to walk without aid or rest some 300 meters.
5.0 Ambulatory without aid or rest for about 200 meters; disability severe enough to impair full daily activities (work a full day without special provisions)
5.5 Ambulatory without aid or rest for about 100 meters; disability severe enough to preclude full daily activities
6.0 Intermittent or unilateral constant assistance (cane, crutch, brace) required to walk about 100 meters with or without resting
6.5 Constant bilateral assistance (canes, crutches, braces) required to walk about 20 meters without resting
7.0 Unable to walk beyond approximately five meters even with aid, essentially restricted to wheelchair; wheels self in standard wheelchair and transfers alone; up and about in wheelchair some 12 hours a day
7.5 Unable to take more than a few steps; restricted to wheelchair; may need aid in transfer; wheels self but cannot carry on in standard wheelchair a full day; May require motorized wheelchair
8.0 Essentially restricted to bed or chair or perambulated in wheelchair, but may be out of bed itself much of the day; retains many self-care functions; generally has effective use of arms
8.5 Essentially restricted to bed much of day; has some effective use of arms retains some self care functions
9.0 Confined to bed; can still communicate and eat.
9.5 Totally helpless bed patient; unable to communicate effectively or eat/swallow
10.0 Death due to MS

Some attacks, however, are preceded by common triggers.

  • Relapses occur more frequently during spring and summer.
  • Viral infections such as the common cold, influenza, or gastroenteri increase the risk of relapse.
  • Stress may also trigger an attack.
  • Pregnancy affects the susceptibility to relapse, with a lower relapse rate at each trimester of gestation. During the first few months after delivery, however, the risk of relapse is increased. Overall, pregnancy does not seem to influence long-term disability.

Many potential triggers have been examined and found not to influence MS relapse rates. There is no evidence that vaccination and breast feeding, physical trauma, or Uhthoff’s phenomenon are relapse triggers.

Muscle symptoms

  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness or abnormal sensation in any area
  • Problems moving arms or legs
  • Problems walking
  • Problems with coordination and making small movements
  • Tremor in one or more arms or legs
  • Weakness in¬† one or more arms or legs

Bowel and bladder symptoms

  • Constipation and stool leakage
  • Difficulty beginning to urinate
  • Frequent need to change
  • Strong urge to urinate
  • Incontinence (Urine leakage )

Eye symptoms

  • Double vision
  • Eye discomfort
  • Uncontrollable rapid eye movements
  • Vision loss (usually affects one eye at a time)

Numbness, tingling, or pain

  • Facial Pain
  • Painful muscle spasms
  • Tingling, crawling, or burning feeling in the arms and legs

Other brain and nerve symptoms

  • Decreased attention span, poor judgment, and memory loss
  • Difficulty reasoning and solving problems
  • Depression or feelings of sadness
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Hearing loss

Sexual symptoms

  • Impotence
  • Problems with vaginal lubrication

Speech and swallowing symptoms

  • Slurred or difficult-to-understand speech
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing

Fatigue is a common and bothersome symptom as MS progresses. It is often worse in the late afternoon.


The health care provider may suspect MS if there are decreases in the function of two different parts of the central nervous system (such as abnormal reflexes) at two different times. A neurological exam may show reduced nerve function in one area of the body, or spread over many parts of the body. This may include:

  • Abnormal nerve reflexes
  • Decreased ability to move a part of the body
  • Decreased or abnormal sensation
  • Other loss of nervous system functions

An eye examination may show:

  • Abnormal pupil responses
  • Changes in the visual fields or eye movements
  • Decreased visual acuity
  • Problems with the inside parts of the eye
  • Rapid eye movements triggered when the eye moves