The symptoms of demyelination differ depending on what is causing it. People with diseases that causes myelin to deteriorate over time may have mild symptoms at first that get worse as the disease progresses. Those with demyelination caused by injury or temporary illness may suffer acute symptoms that improve as the body heals. Demyelination can cause problems with vision, movement, and cognitive ability that may vary considerably from patient to patient.
One of the possible causes of demyelination is the swelling in the optic nerve, called optic neuritis. For patients with this condition, the symptoms of demyelination may include a sudden loss of vision that usually affects only one of the eyes. In less severe cases, patients with a swollen optic nerve may have a decreased ability to see color or difficulty focusing. Moving the affected eye can also cause considerable pain.
A variety of demyelination diseases can also affect the spinal cord. The symptoms of demyelination may occur over the course of a couple of days or weeks and can cause severe and irreversible problems. At first, patients may experience strange sensations, such as burning, tingling or numbness. A sensitivity to touch, heat or cold and pain in the back, or pain that radiates into the limbs may also be present. The part of the body affected by these sensations depends on the part of the spinal cord that has undergone demyelination.
As demyelination diseases of the spinal cord progress, patients can experience a loss of coordination or motor control. Sometimes, partial or complete paralysis can occur, which may be permanent. Other symptoms of demyelination in the spine may include a loss of control of the bowels or bladder.
Patients with demyelination in the brain, including multiple sclerosis (MS), can experience a different set of symptoms. Muscular problems, such as loss of coordination or loss of balance are common, as are uncontrolled movements of the limbs and facial muscles. It may become difficult for patients with these conditions to speak clearly or to swallow if the demyelination affects the part of the brain in charge of the speech centers or the muscles of the mouth. The optic nerve can also be affected by these conditions, causing the same symptoms of demyelination that affect only this nerve.
Cognitive problems can also be symptoms of demyelination. Patients may have difficulty remembering, thinking clearly, or solving problems. They may have problems with the ears, including loss of hearing and vertigo as well. Depression is another common symptom of the loss of myelin.