Vision problems — including blurred vision, double vision, or complete loss of sight — can affect people with MS at any time during the disease course. Despite the impact that visual impairments have on life, not everyone with MS discusses vision issues with their doctors, according to a recent study in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.
The research team, based in The Netherlands, suggested that routine screening for vision problems among people with MS can lead to earlier referrals to specialists, which may improve quality of life.
“The prevalence of visual complaints among people with MS is relatively high compared to people without MS and the nature of these complaints shows great variety and variability,” wrote the research team. “People with MS with visual complaints may benefit from specific tools or training that may reduce difficulty with seeing, but also from general insights in making the world more accessible to the visual system, for example by applying extra contrast.”
Vision problems in MS most commonly stem from what’s called optic neuritis. In MS, the immune system attacks myelin, the coating that surrounds and protects the nerves within the central nervous system (including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve). The optic nerve sends signals from the eyes to the brain, allowing people to interpret their visual environment. If the optic nerve becomes inflamed, it can’t send signals to the brain effectively.
Learn more about optic neuritis and MS, including symptoms and treatments.
From July 2017 to November 2019, the research team invited 493 people with MS and 661 healthy individuals to complete the Screening Visual Complaints questionnaire. About 72 percent of people with MS who responded to the survey had relapsing-remitting MS, 74 percent had secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, and 49 percent had primary progressive MS.
The questionnaire asked about vision complaints. On a scale of 0 to 2, with 0 being “Never” and 2 being “Often/Always,” the participants answered 19 statements regarding how often they experienced vision trouble. They also rated their level of discomfort with impaired vision and whether vision problems affected their day-to-day activities.
Results showed that people with MS had more visual impairments than those without the condition. Specifically, 90 percent of people with MS reported at least one complaint, 52 percent reported at least five complaints, and 23 percent had at least 10 visual complaints.
Among people with MS, some of the most-reported complaints were:
Visual impairments were most common among people with severe disability from MS and those with SPMS.