Canada has the highest rate of Multiple Sclerosis in the world, with approximately 1 in every 340 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 40 living with the disease.

Multiple Sclerosis, also known as MS, is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (including the spinal cord and brain) in which the immune system attacks the myelin, a fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibres. As a result, the myelin becomes damaged and forms scar tissue, which then interrupts nerve impulses that travel to and from the brain and the spinal cord, and causes a wide range of symptoms.

Below, Dr. Ali Ghahary provides insight on some of the symptoms of MS.

Fatigue, the most common symptom associated with multiple sclerosis, affects as many as 80% of those with the disease. MS-related fatigue can occur on a daily basis, and can leave you feeling tired even after having a good night’s rest. It can also worsen as the day goes on, and can be aggravated by things like heat and humidity. The fatigue can be so severe that it can also impact one’s ability to perform daily activities as well as attend school or work. Options to help manage fatigue include seeing an occupational therapist to help simplify your everyday tasks, as well as physical therapy to help you come up with ways to help you save energy as well as help you develop a low-energy exercise routine.

Numbness and tingling, another common symptom of MS, is often the first symptom that patients will experience. This includes numbness/tingling of the face, body, or other extremities such as the arms and legs. Depending on the part of the body that is affected, you could experience difficulty writing, holding items, or even walking. Along with numbness, having difficulty walking can also be related to many other factors including spasticity, and you may even develop problems with balance. To decrease spasticity, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends trying stretching exercises. Antispasticity medications, such as Baclofen, can also be effective.

Vision problems are another early symptom of MS and can include anything from blurred or distorted vision, trouble focusing, poor contrast, as well as eye pain. If you notice any of these symptoms you should let your primary care physician know immediately – especially if they are sudden. Certain eye conditions can be indicative of a more serious health condition. For further evaluation, Dr. Ali Ghahary may also need to refer patients to see an ophthalmologist.

Both acute and chronic pain syndromes are also reported in as many as 55% of patients with MS. The different types of pain syndromes patients can experience include fibromyalgia (pain experienced throughout the body) as well as trigeminal neuralgia (a stabbing/aching pain in the face and is often mistaken for dental pain). Many of these pain conditions are treated with anticonvulsant or antidepressant medications.

For more information on multiple sclerosis, including symptoms not listed here, as well as help on finding support and services in your area, visit the MS Society of Canada.