Symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) are caused by lesions within the central nervous system. The location of the lesions determines the specific symptoms of an individual patient. Nausea is one of a wide variety of potential symptoms, but it’s not among the most common.

Nausea can be a direct symptom of MS or an offshoot of another symptom. Also, some of the medications used to treat specific symptoms can cause nausea.

MS Pretenders

No single test that can definitively diagnose MS. Part of the criteria for diagnosis is the elimination of other conditions. If you have symptoms of MS, but haven’t been diagnosed yet, your doctor will probably investigate other possibilities to see if they can be ruled out.

Some conditions share many of the same symptoms as MS, but are more likely to involve nausea. These include:

  • stroke
  • migraine
  • brain tumor
  • head injury

Dizziness, Vertigo, and Movement

Dizziness and lightheadedness are common symptoms of MS that are usually fleeting, but may cause mild nausea.

Vertigo isn’t the same thing as dizziness. It’s the false feeling that your surroundings are moving rapidly or spinning like an amusement park ride. Despite knowing that the room really isn’t spinning, vertigo can be quite unsettling and leave you feeling ill.

An episode of vertigo can last a few seconds or several days. It can be constant or it can come and go. A severe case of vertigo can cause double vision, nausea, or vomiting.

When vertigo occurs, find a comfortable place to sit and keep still. Avoid sudden movements and bright lights. Don’t try to read. The nausea will probably subside when the sensation of spinning stops. Over-the-counter anti-motion sickness medication may be able to help.

If vertigo and associated nausea become an ongoing problem, consult your doctor. Some prescription-strength medications may be able to get your vertigo under control. In extreme cases, vertigo can be treated with corticosteroids.

Sometimes movement in your field of vision—or even the perception of movement—is enough to trigger severe nausea and vomiting in MS patients. Talk to your doctor if you experience prolonged bouts of nausea.

Medication Side Effects

Some medications used to treat particular MS symptoms may cause nausea.

Dalfampridine is an oral medication used to improve the ability to walk. One of the potential side effects of this potassium channel blocker is nausea.

A muscle relaxant called dantrolene can be used to treat muscle spasms and spasticity due to a variety of conditions, including MS. Nausea and vomiting after taking this oral medication could indicate serious side effects, including liver damage.

Mitoxantrone (MIT) and cyclophosphamide (CTX) are immunosuppressants used to treat cancer. These intravenous medications also can be used to treat worsening MS.

Common side effects of these drugs include nausea and vomiting.

One of the most common symptoms of MS is fatigue. A variety of medications are used to help MS patients overcome fatigue, many of which may cause nausea. Among them are:

  • Provigil
  • Nuvigil
  • Amantadine
  • Ritalin
  • Dexedrine
  • Zoloft
  • Paxil
  • Prozac

Report nausea and other side effects from your medications to your doctor. A change in medication may be all you need to get back on track.

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Break It Down: Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a condition that affects approximately 400,000 Americans. Thankfully, the majority of people with MS have the same life expectancy as persons without the condition. However, they can have a variety of manifestations that impact their quality of life.

MS is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord.

Multiple sclerosis causes an attack on myelin, a substance that enables signal transmission along the nerves. Scar tissue creates gaps in functional myelin. This affects how messages are transmitted within the brain or along the nerves.

This scarring, or sclerosis, can manifest in different ways, and these effects can change over time, so there may not be a constant pattern of symptoms with MS. The most common symptoms are numbness and tingling in hands and feet, vision problems, poor balance, limited mobility, lack of concentration, and slurred speech.

These symptoms often go through periods of relapse or remissions. Sometimes there aren’t typical outward signs of the disease, so MS is often called a “silent disease.”

Relapsing-remitting MS is a form of the condition characterized by defined periods of relapse and remission without progression. About 85 percent of all patients are initially diagnosed with this form of MS before beginning treatment.

While there is no cure for MS, recent advances have led to effective therapies that can help MS patients manage their symptoms. Disease-modifying drugs work to change your body’s immune response. These treatments are available as oral medications or injections, prescribed by a medical professional. Other medications that are sometimes recommended to MS patients to ease symptoms include muscle relaxants or corticosteroids, the latter to reduce inflammation.

Because MS can be a challenging disease physically and mentally, drug therapy is often supplemented by physical and emotional support from trained therapists.

The key to successfully treating MS involves working closely with your doctor and other specialists. Medications, therapy, and proper lifestyle choices can help ensure that MS remains only a part of your life, not the determining factor of how you should live it.