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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS) characterized by chronic inflammation, demyelination, gliosis (plaques or scarring), and neuronal loss; the course can be relapsing or progressive. MS plaques typically develop at different times and in different CNS locations (i.e., MS is said to be disseminated in time and space). More than 900,000 individuals in the United States and millions of individuals worldwide are affected. The clinical course is extremely variable, ranging from a relatively benign condition to a rapidly evolving and incapacitating disease requiring profound lifestyle adjustments.
The onset of MS may be abrupt or insidious. Symptoms may be severe or seem so trivial that a patient may not seek medical attention for months or years. Indeed, at autopsy, ~0.1% of individuals who were asymptomatic during life will be found, unexpectedly, to have pathologic evidence of MS. Similarly, an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan obtained for an unrelated reason may show evidence of asymptomatic MS. Symptoms of MS are extremely varied and depend on the location and severity of lesions within the CNS (Table 436-1). Examination often reveals evidence of neurologic dysfunction, often in asymptomatic locations. For example, a patient may present with symptoms in one leg but signs in both.
TABLE 436-1Initial Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) ||Download (.pdf) TABLE 436-1 Initial Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
|Symptom ||Percentage of Cases ||Symptom ||Percentage of Cases |
|Sensory loss ||37 ||Lhermitte ||3 |
|Optic neuritis ||36 ||Pain ||3 |
|Weakness ||35 ||Dementia ||2 |
|Paresthesias ||24 ||Visual loss ||2 |
|Diplopia ||15 ||Facial palsy ||1 |
|Ataxia ||11 ||Impotence ||1 |
|Vertigo ||6 ||Myokymia ||1 |
|Paroxysmal attacks ||4 ||Epilepsy ||1 |
|Bladder ||4 ||Falling ||1 |
Sensory symptoms are varied and include both paresthesias (e.g., tingling, prickling sensations, formications, “pins and needles,” or painful burning) and hypesthesia (e.g., reduced sensation, numbness, or a “dead” feeling). Unpleasant sensations (e.g., feelings that body parts are swollen, wet, raw, or tightly wrapped) are also common. Sensory impairment of the trunk and legs below a horizontal line on the torso (a sensory level) indicates that the spinal cord is the origin of the sensory disturbance. It is often accompanied by a bandlike sensation of tightness around the torso. Pain is a common symptom of MS, experienced by >50% of patients. Pain can occur anywhere on the body and can change locations over time.
Optic neuritis (ON) presents as diminished visual acuity, dimness, or decreased color perception (desaturation) in the central field of vision. These symptoms can be mild or may progress to severe visual loss. Rarely, there is complete loss of light perception. Visual symptoms are generally monocular but may be ...