A: The first symptoms of MS are too numerous to list and often we are not able to attribute a particular symptom to MS. On the other hand certain syndromes, defined as a collection of symptoms and examination findings occurring in a particular sequence over a designated period of time, are highly characteristic of MS.
An example would be a syndrome called optic neuritis where an individual typically experiences pain in one eye when it is moved followed or accompanied by loss of vision in the same eye with maximal deficits usually within a few days, if not sooner. This loss of vision typically involves only the central area of vision, often with preserved peripheral vision. When the visual loss is partial it is typical for the individual to lose color vision in the involved eye.
In contrast certain symptoms may be reported by MS patients but are very difficult to directly attribute to MS since these symptoms are often caused by other problems. These non specific symptoms include fatigue, forgetfulness, word finding problems (“tip of the tongue phenomenon”), headaches, and transient pins and needles sensations. Again, while these symptoms are common in MS patients, they are too non specific to be used for diagnostic purposes.
Revere (Rip) Kinkel MD
Director of the UCSD Multiple Sclerosis Center