Exclusive Content

5 Unknown Symptoms Associated with MS

By Marissa A. Barrera

Most individuals with multiple sclerosis are accustomed to experiencing fatigue, difficulty with mobility, and numbness. However, there are other symptoms that are less common. Because MS symptoms are variable and highly unpredictable, each person’s symptoms can change or vary over time. Here are some important but less obvious signs and symptoms of MS.

Speech Disorders

Speech problems, such as dysarthria (the slurring of words) and dysphonia (loss of vocal volume) occur in approximately 40-60 percent of people with MS. Changes to speech and voice can occur at any point during the disease course, but is most often observed during periods of extreme fatigue. Consider consulting a speech-language pathologist who can help give you useful exercises to improve your communication skills.


Ever feel faint, off balance or lightheaded? A less common MS symptom is vertigo, which is the feeling as if the room is spinning around you. Vertigo can often be successfully treated by an audiologist or with motion sickness or antinausea drugs.

Difficulty Swallowing

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is often observed in individuals with MS. In fact, as many as 30 precent of the MS population have difficulty swallowing, especially if there are brainstem plaques. The sensation of saliva, fluid or food going down the “wrong pipe” is an overt sign of swallowing dysfunction. Other symptoms of dysphagia include difficulty chewing, choking during mealtime, or having residual food in your mouth after swallowing. Swallowing problems may occur when you're first diagnosed with MS or as it progresses. A speech-language pathologist can help. They are trained to evaluate and show you alternative ways to eat safely.

Hearing Problems

What was that? Can you repeat that please? Difficulty hearing is a surprising and uncommon symptom of MS. Symptoms can range from ringing in the ears to a sudden loss of hearing. For many individuals, hearing loss can be one of the first signs of MS. Given this MS symptom is rare, if you experience difficulty hearing talk to your doctor or an audiologist.

Breathing Difficulties

Respiration problems often occur in individuals whose chest muscles have weakened because of deconditioning, or because of damage to the nerves that control those muscles. In MS, the most common cause of respiratory problems is loss of muscle strength and endurance. Similar to how you may experience muscle weakness in your hands, arms or legs, weakness can occur in the muscles of the chest and abdomen that are involved in breathing. Respiratory problems can also interfere with communication such as having the endurance necessary for speech and voice production. Be sure to consult with your doctor if you are experiencing difficulty breathing.

Marissa A. Barrera, MS, MPhil, MSCS, CCC-SLP is the owner of New York Neurogenic Speech-Language Pathology and co-owner of the Aspire Center for Health and Wellness. She is a licensed speech-language pathologist, a multiple sclerosis certified specialist, and professor of acquired motor speech and swallowing disorders. Marissa is sits on the Medical Advisory Board for the MSF.