Numbness and Tingling As a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis

Parasthesia Can Affect Quality of Life

Multiple Sclerosis Numbness and Tingling
Pins and Needles?. Nicholas Rigg / Getty Images

Numbness and tingling are two of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. In fact, they may have been what led to your diagnosis, your first symptoms. While frightening, they are usually not as alarming or disabling as motor symptoms (like falling or dropping things).

What Does Numbness and Tingling Really Feel Like?

Most commonly referred to as “numbness” or “tingling,” loss of sensation or abnormal sensations are two of the most common MS symptoms that people seek help for.

When a person with MS describe sensory symptoms they may be experiencing one of the following:

  • Numbness ("loss of sensation")
  • Pins and needles (called paresthesia)
  • Burning
  • Severe itchiness
  • Tingling, buzzing, vibrating, throbbing sensations

Sensory symptoms can be transient (lasting for just a little while) or last for a long time. They can also vary in intensity, come at different times of the day, and be constant or come in waves. In addition, some sensory symptoms cause only mild discomfort or are simply annoying. But others may be frankly painful. Some people with MS experience allodynia, meaning they experience pain with touched with things that normally do not cause pain like their clothes or a friendly touch on the arm. In other words, everyone has his or her own special form of sensory disturbances in MS.

It's also important to note that numbness and tingling can occur anywhere in the body and present a variety of problems based on their location.

For example, if your feet are affected, you may experience problems walking because of pain, sensory ataxia and interference with proprioception. If your hands are affected, you may experience problems with writing, fine motor movements, or holding things.

Sensory problems, especially numbness, of the genitalia can cause sexual dysfunction and paresthesias of the tongue may cause problems speaking, such as dysarthria, or detecting the temperature of food.

Another common type of MS-related sensory disturbance is the "MS Hug," which causes tightness or squeezing around the trunk or extremities.

It's interesting to note that sensory disturbances tend to be worse at night. A good rule of thumb is to ensure your bedroom is cool, as this may help your symptoms. If the numbness and tingling significantly disturbs your sleep, you may need to talk to your doctor about a sleep aid or specific treatment for the paresthesia.

What Causes Sensory Symptoms in MS?

Sensory symptoms in MS are caused by lesions on the brain or spinal cord, meaning they occur as a result of demyelination of the nerve fibers that carry sensory information about the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the body and vice versa.

Often, sensory disturbances occur as part of a pseudoexacerbation, a temporary increase in symptoms caused by an external factor. Usually this is a result of MS-related heat intolerance, or as a result of MS fatigue. If this is the case, the sensation should go away or greatly lessen in intensity once you are cool and/or rested - meaning no permanent neurological damage is being done when you experience i

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