Performing a multiple sclerosis (MS) self-assessment cannot diagnose the condition, but it may help a person understand their symptoms and know when to contact a doctor. An MS self-assessment can include paying attention to energy levels, physical sensations, vision problems, and more.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. The disease damages myelin, which is a protective coating for nerves, causing damage to and loss of neurons.

This can cause a range of symptoms, including pain, depression, mobility problems, incontinence, sleep problems, and sexual dysfunction.

Early diagnosis and treatment of MS can slow the progression of the disease and improve overall outcomes. People can perform a self-assessment to evaluate their symptoms at home. If they have some symptoms that indicate MS, they may want to contact a doctor.

Read more to learn about how MS self-assessments work and how they can help with early diagnosis and treatment.

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People cannot give themselves a diagnosis of MS. However, they may suspect they have MS based on certain symptoms.

Doctors diagnose MS based on a combination of symptoms and tests, so giving a doctor a comprehensive list of symptoms and descriptions of how they have changed over time may help a person get a faster and more accurate diagnosis. They can do this by recording their symptoms.

Signs of MS to look for include:

  • Clinically isolated syndrome. A clinically isolated syndrome causes neurological symptoms that last for 24 hours or longer and then disappear. People can experience vision changes, numbness, tingling, or weakness.
  • Changes in energy levels. Fatigue is one of the most common MS symptoms and may appear early in the disease.
  • Changes in physical sensations. MS commonly causes changes in physical sensations, such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or unexplained pain.
  • Vision issues. Vision changes, ranging from blindness to blurry vision, commonly appear early in the disease. They may go away or linger.
  • MS hug. One of the most common symptoms is the MS hug. This is a hugging, tightening sensation around the chest and stomach.
  • Changes in brain function. People with MS may experience brain fog, distraction, depression, or a sense that they are slower. They might have difficulty with basic tasks.
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction. As MS progresses, some people develop incontinence of the bladder, the bowels, or both. This ranges from minor urine leakage to a complete inability to control one’s bowels or bladder.
  • Sexual dysfunction. A person may notice that they have pain during sex, trouble getting or staying aroused, difficulty having an orgasm, or changes in sexual sensations.
  • Symptom changes over time. MS symptoms change and evolve with time. They may go away and return, or one symptom or group of symptoms may be replaced by another group of symptoms.
  • Issues with walking or balance. A person may fall more often, feel unbalanced, or have trouble coordinating their movements. Some people experience weakness in their arms or legs.

If a person has multiple symptoms, it is more likely they may have MS. Some symptoms are relatively common, so having one does not mean a person has the condition. For example, many people experience fatigue, but it is less common to experience fatigue, vision problems, and numbness at the same time.

For many people with MS, the disease begins with a clinically isolated syndrome. This is one or more unexplained neurological symptoms that last longer than 24 hours. But in some people, symptoms may be subtle, appearing gradually over time.

The nervous system coordinates most of the body’s activities, which means that MS can affect many different functions. As a result, it can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Some of the most common signs of MS are:

  • numbness, pain, or tingling
  • vision issues such as blurred vision, trouble seeing, or floaters
  • weakness
  • issues with walking or balance
  • bladder or bowel incontinence
  • unexplained sexual dysfunction
  • mood changes
  • brain fog

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

MS symptoms in males

Some MS symptoms, including erectile dysfunction and ejaculatory dysfunction, affect only males. While most symptoms of MS appear in both males and females, certain symptoms are more common in males, especially in the early stages.

Men are more likely to have early motor issues such as difficulties with balance or walking. They also have a higher risk of rapid disease progression in relapse-onset MS.

Learn more about MS symptoms in males.

MS symptoms in females

MS is more common in females than in males. Females are also more likely than males to have eye symptoms, including optic neuritis, which affects vision.

Because MS affects the nervous system, it may also affect sexual functioning. It can impact a person’s ability to become lubricated, feel aroused, or have an orgasm.

In one 2018 study, females with MS experienced more irregular periods and more symptoms of premenstrual syndrome than those without MS.

Learn more about MS symptoms in females.

No single test can diagnose MS. Instead, doctors usually take a person’s medical history and perform a variety of tests, including:

  • tests to rule out other conditions, such as an X-ray to look for injuries
  • a neurological exam to look for symptoms and areas of potential neurological damage
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing to check for nervous system damage
  • a lumbar puncture to look for signs of MS in the cerebrospinal fluid

If a doctor suspects MS based on a person’s symptoms, they will decide to run tests. They will also monitor changes in a person’s symptoms over time.

Current diagnostic criteria require that a person have MS symptoms and that at least two of the following be present:

  • signs of the disease in a person’s cerebrospinal fluid
  • more than one lesion in the cranial area
  • more than two lesions in the spinal area

About 85% of people with MS initially have a relapsing form of the disease. This means their symptoms may improve and then worsen.

A person should contact a doctor if:

  • they have symptoms of MS
  • they have other neurological symptoms and are not sure of the cause
  • their symptoms are getting worse or not responding to treatment
  • they have medication side effects
  • they have worsening neurological symptoms after a suspected but not confirmed MS diagnosis

MS can be scary, especially when a person worries about what the disease might mean for the future. However, many common conditions can cause MS-like symptoms, so having just one symptom does not mean a person has the disease.

A person can perform an at-home self-assessment by evaluating their symptoms. If they have multiple signs of MS, they should contact a doctor.