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Symptoms of Spinal Cord Lesions in MS

author image Sharon Perkins
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Lesions in MS
Doctor looking at a spine X-ray Photo Credit: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that causes demyelinization of nerve coverings over parts of the brain and spinal cord. Multiple sclerosis, or MS, affects women more often than men, and usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40, notes the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Demyelinization, which slows or stops nerve impulses, affects the spinal cord in 75 percent of cases, states the University of Rochester Medical Center, adding that spinal cord lesions cause most of the acute symptoms.

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Motor Symptoms

Motor weakness commonly occurs in people with spinal cord lesions in MS, causing weakness bilaterally, which mostly affects the legs, according to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Deep tendon reflexes are increased, causing spasticity, a painful increase in muscle tone. Hemiplegia, paralysis on one side of the body, can occur from lesions in the cervical spinal cord. Paraplegia, paralysis below the waist, or quadriplegia, loss of sensation and paralysis below the neck, may also affect people with spinal cord lesions. A person with spinal cord lesions may have difficulty maintaining balance, or may have a stiff-legged gait. Ataxia, or the inability to walk a straight line, may also occur, reports HealthCentral.


Parathesias, or numbness and tingling sensations, may occur in people with spinal cord lesions in MS, and may be localized to just one area, such as the hands or legs. Sensation may be lost over the shoulder and upper arms in a cape-like pattern, reports HealthCentral. A loss of sensation in a band-shaped pattern around the middle of the abdomen may cause paraplegia. Burning or shock-like sensations may occur spontaneously or if the spinal cord is touched, notes the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Flexing the neck may elicit Lhermitte’s sign, an electric shock down the spine or into the legs.

Genito-urinary Symptoms

Spinal cord lesions in MS can cause a number of genito-urinary difficulties, including impotence, fertility issues, or loss of sensation in the genitals or problems with vaginal lubrication in women. Urinary retention, urgency, hesitation or incontinence may affect patients.

Bowel Symptoms

Constipation commonly affects people with spinal cord lesions in MS, but complete loss of bowel control occurs only rarely, reports the American Academy of Family Physicians, or AAFP.

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