Should know about your health

It starts with something innocent enough: that familiar sluggishness during a long workweek, forgetting friends’ birthdays here and there. If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you might brush it off. But what if we told you these could all be early warning signs of multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Symptoms of MS can start as early as age 20, come and go in unpredictable patterns, and often appear under the guise of symptoms you deal with on the daily.

“Many symptoms that occur early in MS can also occur in other conditions—some more commonly occurring conditions than MS,” says Kathleen Costello, a nurse practitioner and associate vice president of healthcare access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Some of the early signs can also be generalized, such as an increase in overall fatigue level, which makes zeroing in on one diagnosis initially difficult.”

MS can happen to anyone; in fact, about 2.3 million people around the world are living with it right now, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. And that’s just a rough estimate: Since the symptoms are so hard to spot, many people don’t even know they have MS and are currently undiagnosed. Women, however, are two to three times more likely than men to develop this debilitating disease, in which your immune system wreaks havoc on your own central nervous system and damages the connections between your brain and your body.

While doctors still don’t know exactly what causes MS, they do know that getting diagnosed early can trim down your chances of long-term disability. So being able to recognize the early signs of multiple sclerosis—no matter how tricky they are to detect—is critical. If your nerves are feeling a bit shot lately, be on the lookout for these hints that a larger issue might be at hand:

IMPAIRED VISION

When you work a nine-to-five desk job, it’s normal for your vision to have to readjust itself as soon as you peel your eyes away from the computer screen. But if you’re experiencing a dimming, blurring, doubling, or complete loss of vision—especially if it’s only in one eye—you might be feeling the effects of something called “optic neuritis,” a common symptom of MS that causes inflammation of the optic nerve.

“Some people describe this as looking through a smudged contact lens, or looking through a screen or through water,” says Costello. “It may also be associated with pain or a pulling sensation during eye movement, and there may be a noticeable loss of color vision—particularly a desaturation of reds that makes them look more grayish-red.”