Symptom Management

Five Surprising Symptoms Associated with MS

By By Marissa A. Barrera, PhD, MSCS, CCC-SLP
Persons with MS are accustomed to experiencing fatigue, difficulty with mobility, and numbness, but there are many other symptoms that are less commonly discussed yet equally important. Because MS symptoms are variable and highly unpredictable, each individual’s symptoms can change or vary over time. Here are some important, but less obvious signs and symptoms of MS.
Speech Disorders
            Speech problems, such as dysarthria (the slurring of words) and dysphonia (loss of vocal volume) occur in approximately 40 to 60 percent of people with MS. Changes to speech and voice can occur at any point during the disease course, but are most often observed during periods of extreme fatigue. Consider consulting a speech-language pathologist who can give you useful exercises to improve your communication skills. 

            Ever feel faint, off balance, or lightheaded? A less common MS symptom is vertigo, which is the feeling as if the room is spinning around you. Vertigo can often be successfully treated by an audiologist or with motion sickness or antinausea drugs.
Difficulty Swallowing
            Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is observed in 30 percent of the MS population, especially if there are brainstem plaques. The sensation of saliva, fluid, or food going down the “wrong pipe” is an overt sign of swallowing dysfunction. Other symptoms of dysphagia include difficulty chewing, choking during mealtime, or having residual food in your mouth after swallowing. Swallowing problems may occur when you're first diagnosed with MS or as it progresses. A speech-language pathologist can help. They are trained to evaluate and show you alternative ways to eat safely.
Hearing Problems
            “What was that? Can you repeat that please?” Difficulty hearing is a surprising and uncommon symptom of MS. Symptoms can range from ringing in the ears to a sudden loss of hearing. For some individuals, hearing loss can be one of the first signs of MS. Given that this MS symptom is rare, if you experience difficulty hearing talk to your doctor or an audiologist.
Breathing Difficulties
            Respiration problems often occur in individuals whose chest muscles have weakened because of deconditioning or damage to the nerves that control those muscles. In MS, the most common cause of respiratory problems is loss of muscle strength and endurance. Weakness can occur in the muscles of the chest and abdomen that are involved in breathing, similarly to how you may experience muscle weakness in your hands, arms or legs. Respiratory problems can also interfere with communication, such as not having the endurance necessary for speech and voice production. Be sure to consult with your doctor if you are experiencing difficulty breathing.
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