Is there a difference between the symptoms of late onset MS and early onset MS?

“The actual symptoms that occur at onset are similar — whether they occur early or late,” says Mitzi J. Williams, MD, clinical neurologist with Morehouse School of Medicine and clinical advisor for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

Symptoms of MS, Whether Early or Late Onset

Dr. Williams explains, “Common symptoms include visual loss, leg numbness and weakness.

“Early symptoms often start (e.g., visual loss), last for several days to weeks and may completely disappear without any treatment or intervention.”

MS is an autoimmune disease that’s well-known for going into remission for no known reason.

“This is a common reason why people may not be diagnosed early,” says Dr. Williams.

“They may have, for instance, arm numbness, and if they go see the physician, it could be diagnosed as a ‘pinched nerve.’”

Or, numbness, tingling and weakness in a leg may be misdiagnosed as sciatica.

If you’re ever diagnosed with a pinched nerve or herniated disc without an MRI – get a second opinion from a doctor who will authorize an imaging study.

A pinched nerve cannot be officially diagnosed just based on clinical signs.

“It looks like a pinched nerve” needs to be followed up with an MRI.

Another misdiagnosis sample is carpal tunnel syndrome. This needs to be confirmed with an EMG study.

Dr. Williams points out that in the case of misdiagnoses, the “symptoms go away, and they may not seek further attention until something else happens.

“If these symptoms are missed and someone is diagnosed later, they may have symptoms that occur and last, or they may have symptoms that occur and continue to worsen.”

Early vs. Late Onset MS: Behavior of Symptoms Is the Difference, not Type of Symptoms

As already mentioned, the actual symptoms themselves don’t differ.

Other symptoms of MS include:

• Pain

• Spasms

• Balance problems, unsteady gait

• Dizziness

• Bladder problems

• Sexual dysfunction

• Electric shock sensations in the neck with certain motions

• Tremoring

• Slurred speech

Whether early or late onset, a person may have any of the above symptoms.

However, in younger patients (early onset), these symptoms – as Dr. Williams mentioned – may disappear soon after they arise, mimicking a less serious condition and leading to a misdiagnosis.

Mitzi Williams, MD

Dr. Williams is author of “MS Made Simple: The Essential Guide to Understanding Your Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis.” She is a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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