Posted by: Thixia | June 5, 2008

Numbness, Tingling, Pins and Needles, Burning, Itchiness

Numbness and Tingling as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis

Parasthesia Can Affect Quality of Life

 

Pretty much all of us with multiple sclerosis (MS) have experienced paresthesia, the special form of numbness and tingling that accompanies MS. 

I understand intellectually what the medical writers and physicians mean when they refer to MS-related numbness and tingling as “only an annoyance,” “not disabling,” or a “benign” symptom.  However, it is language like this that informs me that the writer has probably never experienced this symptom.  Holding nothing against these people who are trying to help us, I’ll say that for myself, the itching, burning, and tingling was a minor form of physical and emotional torture.  The time when I felt the most alienated from my neurologist was when he responded to my question concerning how long this would last and what could I do to make it stop with a smile and a shrug. 

Numbness and tingling were the symptoms that led to my MS diagnosis.  It was scary and weird and I was convinced it was going to last forever.  It interfered with my walking, but even more than that, it caused constant psychological distress because it was always there.  Before I was diagnosed, it had me worried about all of the things it could be.  After I was diagnosed, it reminded me that one of my worst fears had been confirmed.

 

What Does It Feel Like?

Most commonly referred to as “numbness” or “tingling,” this is one of the MS symptoms that most people seek help for, as it is so common and it is clear that it is a neurological origins (as opposed to depression, constipation or fatigue).  It feels like:

·       Numbness

·       Pins and needles

·       Burning

·       Severe itchiness

·       Tingling, buzzing, vibrating sensations

 

How Common Is It?

Sensory symptoms are the most common symptom of MS, with up to 90% of people with MS reporting some form of numbness and tingling. 

 

What Causes It?

Paresthesias in MS are caused by lesions on the brain or spinal cord.  They can be as a result of touch (where the sensation is much more intense than a normal touch would cause).  They can also just occur spontaneously. 

Often, this numbness and tingling sensation occurs 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. 

 

How Severe Can It Get?

It can occur everywhere in the body, presenting the following problems:

 

  • Feet, causing problems walking because of pain, sensory ataxia, and interference with proprioception
  • Hands, causing problems with writing, fine motor movements, holding things
  • Genitalia, causing sexual dysfuncti
  • Tongue, causing problems speaking, such as dysarthria, or detecting temperature of food

 

Additional Points/Information

Usual Pattern: The sensation usually appears in the hands and/or feet, then moves progressively closer to the core up the arms and legs, although it can appear anywhere. 

Will It Go Away? If it happens as part of a MS relapse, it may or may not resolve completely.  It is estimated that 42% of relapses result in residual symptoms, and paresthesia is one that seems to stick around.  However, if your doctor uses high-dose corticosteroids (Solu-Medrol) to reduce your relapse duration and severity, these may bring lasting relief from the numbness and tingling, as well. 

Benign? I do not like this word, as it seems to diminish the actual experience of this fairly horrible symptom.  However, what this really means is that paresthesia usually does not cause significant disability, does not indicate that the disease is getting worse and is not related to your degree of disability.  In fact, it was found that people experiencing pain or sensory symptoms performed better on movement and coordination tests. 

Unpredictable: Paresthesia can be transient (lasting for just a little while) or last for a long time.  The numbness and tingling can vary in intensity and can come at different times of the day.  It can feel like waves of tingling or steady throbbing.  In other words, everyone has his or her own special form of paresthesia. 

Can Interfere with Sleep: Paresthesias tend to be worse at night.  Make sure that the temperature in your bedroom is cool, which may help.  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. 

Allodynia: This is a particular type of sensory symptom that is in result to a stimulus, such as a person’s touch or even clothing or bed linens touching their skin.  It is stimulus-dependent and only lasts as long as the stimulus is present.  Allodynia is usually a short-term problem. 

My Experience

I was walking to my car in the parking garage on a pretty hot day.  All of the sudden, I felt waves of tingling and itching starting at my feet and going about halfway up my calves, and then back down.  I reached my car and drove home carefully, having to talk myself through the experience, assuring myself that my foot was on the pedal, even though I couldn’t feel it because I was so distracted by the feeling in my feet.  Eventually, these “waves” settled down into a pretty disturbing tingling feeling, like ants were crawling all over my lower legs and occasionally biting me.  This led me to the neurologist’s office.  The rest, as they say, is history.

These days, I do not have this symptom constantly.  It comes on with a vengeance if I exert myself too much or get too hot.  Even walking on the treadmill at a moderate pace brings on the tingling sensation.  I have learned to ignore it when I am intentionally exerting myself during exercise.  However, it is an excellent barometer when I am outside and the temperature is rising – it informs me that I better get to a cooler place or much worse symptoms are on their way.

Sources:

Randall T.  Shapiro.  Managing the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (5th ed.).  New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007. 

Rae-Grant AD, Eckert NJ, Bartz S, Reed JF.  Sensory symptoms of multiple sclerosis: a hidden reservoir of morbidity.  Mult Scler.  1999 Jun;5(3):179-83. 

 

 

By Julie Stachowiak, Ph.D., About.com

 

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Responses

  1. What a perfect explanation about what I’m going through right now. It really helps when it’s written down and explained. I’ve had MS since ’93, am 41 yrs old, and have never had numb, burning, etc this strong before. And….. in my genitalia too. Freaky feeling. I have a very new boyfriend so this is a big worry. Anyway, lets hope it disappears really soon and I get back to normality. Please check out my wildlife photography on my website and see what makes me so happy. I love life! Thanks again for this wonderful report. You’ve really helped me accept my crazy feelings for now.
    All the very best to you…. Sandy x

  2. i hope you all get well soon!

  3. Numbness, Tingling, Pins and Needles, Burning, Itchiness that I have at all … but those systoms have been greatly lessen . I am pretty much believe is some sources of MS is probably part of a pseudoexacerbation. I have been suffered servere with itchiness and burning at my my genitial area caused from my root cause of hypothyrodism. Lately that allergy swiftting to pins and needles feeling on my lower leg.
    I have been carefully watching on my glucose level. It is 90 from my late test result.Thanks for this helpful report!

  4. I am currently experiencing the symptoms described above. My neurologist just did a MRI of my spine and cervical. Although there were 2 subtle lesions on my spine, nothing is active. My cervical was clean. My lesions are in my brain which was shown on an MRI done done in June. I am so frustrated because my Dr. seams to think it’s an allergic reaction to meds, although I am not taking anything new. My problem started October 3rd with a burning, itching sensation in one spot on my back. For 1 1/2 weeks I would scratch with no relief. I then got tingling, pins and needles throughout my body. Worse at night when laying. I was put on 3 more neorontin’s a day, bringing me up to 4200 mg a day. It helps, however it is not a cure all. I feel like I am going crazy and need to get back to work. I can’t function like this.

  5. Is there ANY effective treatment at all for the constant distraction of burning yet COLD feet and (one) hand? Of all symptoms of MS, this is probably the worst in summer time.

  6. For the last 2 weeks I have been experiencing the strangest feeling on my lower back, down my leg and the side of my stomach – just the left side. I didn’t go to the doctor because I don’t know how to explain the feeling. It is not a pain, just a tingling, pins and needles feeling on that side. It gets worse everyday. It kind of feels like when you have a bad sunburn and how it burns and irritating when anything touches it. Is this a sign of MS?

  7. Yes, this most definely sounds like a MS symptom. Even if this symptom seems to disappear please go to your doctor. This or another symptom will come back. MS is like that. It is a come and go, illusive disease. For a long time mine was a Now you see me now you don’t type of disease. A doctor even told me that I was a hypochondriac. Please go now.

  8. Fsugiw Thank you for the material. Do you mind if I posted it in her blog, of course, with reference to your site?

  9. What can be done about it?

  10. i have issues with tingling, numbness, fatigue, lesions on my brain according to a MRI but the 1st neurologist said I have cluster migraines. As I sit here typing this, I feel like I’m 10 feet above the computer, some say that’s vertigo issues. I’ve had the burning sensation on my left forearm, and last week I actually had 3 red lines appear where the burning sensation was, I went to my doctor and he was completely floored. I’m so tired of dealing with this and I just want someone to tell me what is wrong. I’m only 32 yrs old, I have 2 children and I’m to young to be this tired.

  11. My experience for the past 18 years is like when your leg falls asleep the tingles don’t go away. You know yourself and your body if you over heat get cool don’t do too much at once pace yourself. It takes a while to getting used to but if I can do it ,a motorcycle mother of three , any one can. I’m 47 years old and just started riding again no drugs just an understanding of what I can and can’t do each day. When I feel good I ride. When I don’t I stay in where it’s cooler. I tried copaxson not for me, just a preventative, not a cure. Brusing everywhere and the constant itching around the injection sites was enough. I’m not a fan of shots. Also loved my neurologist until he said “you came to see me” well I’ll find my own way I know my body better than any one else. So should you. Fight from your in side.

  12. Everyone’s MS is different. Everyone is not able to do the same things with MS. We all have very different symptoms that come and go. It is great that you know your own body and understand your symptoms.

    Soon Copaxone will be out in oral form. Teva is currently in the last stage of their tests for the oral form.

    I wish you continued luck.

  13. Hi Victoria, i have that exact feeling. I have had it for about a week now. What did your doctor say??

  14. i have ms.i hope everyone gets to feeling better.as for me,im getting my affairs in order.i can not live with this pain.

  15. After 14 yrs of fibromyalgia diagnosis with no remission ever, narcolepsy diagnosis 6 yrs ago and a vast multitude of symptoms, this past year brought new symptoms and increase in others. I have numbness, tingling and burning in my arms, hands, legs, feet, scalp, face, buttocks and pelvic region. I have marked tremors in my hands which increase with activity. It has affected my handwriting and I constantly drop things. I have chronic itching no matter what topical lotions I use. That is one of the most irritating and sleep disturbing symptoms. I have had a marked increase in shortness of breath and even get breathless during phone calls. Also chest pains in my heart area started last January. Very frustrating going to 4 specialists in the last month or so and all the tests come back normal. I even have two specialists that just want me to focus on sleep issues and like you all have said you know your own body, have lived in mine 40 yrs now and I do NOT think sleep issues are causing all this. Did just go in for an MRI but can’t get the results yet because I am recuperating from a tonsillectomy two days ago, hoping to remedy my almost monthly “unnamed virus” that has caused swollen tonsils, high fever, extreme body pain and lethargy. Used to have strep a lot but test negative lately. So, sorry to be so long winded but this has already been a frustrating road in a short time. I have dealt with 24/7 pain for all these years but the neurological stuff any wisdom to share would be greatly appreciated! God bless!and chest pains this year really got my attention. If anyone has any words of wisdom it would be greatly appreciated. God bless!

  16. i am 47 yrs. old when i frist started having all of that buring, tingiing, numbnes, pin,
    needles and vibrating symptoms all over my body i got hit on top of my head with a big box falling from about 35 feet from the air had to have surgon on my neck an now it been 3 yrs. and have not stop yet i hope when i go see this neurologist he have answer cause the doctor i see now don’t . i have had so many M I R that i have lost count i sorry but your MIR is ok so will some one please help me i not working any more its about to drive me crazy please help me!

  17. what can i do for the HORRIBLE itching and arm heaviness pain? that is disabling?

  18. I have the Marburg Variant of MS. If anyone knows anything about this disease please share as I am having a lot of trouble finding any info. Also I am experiencing a feeling like intense heat in my head limited to the front, side and right half of my head. Almost a burning feeling but so far more easy to explain as extreme heat. Please comment.

  19. 21 y.o. college student here. Earlier this year I felt a pins and needles sensation, like a like burning but not painful, in my upper right thigh. It came and went for a few days, spreading into my lower right abdomen area. It went away by the time I saw the doctor. I have a history of scoliosis that has always been borderline surgical, but I never had surgery; the doctor said perhaps a nerve in the spine could be pinched, or something related to the curvature caused it.

    Now, almost half a year later, I felt the sensation in various parts of that right leg, from my thigh to my ankle, and it seemed to last longer. Since I was away from home I worried about it to the point that I cried for nights and thought I’d die away from my family. At one point I became dizzy and my heart raced and I was taken to the hospital for what was thought to be depression (turns out it was something less serious, something related to being away from home and stress).

    A week from this I thought I felt a similar burning sensation in the right part of my head; a doctor said the inside of my ear looked red and gave me medicine for an ear infection. The burning largely persisted until I finished the medicine.

    Two weeks from this I thought I felt a pain and burning sensation in my lower right abdomen and panicked (the pins and needles in my right leg came back at this time.). Was at the hospital for several days because they thought it was appendicitus, they gave me pain medication which stopped the pain, but the burning was mostly the same. The leg and abdomen burning stopped toward the end of my 5-day stay there.

    At this point I don’t know whether my psychological anxiety issues are causing me to experience this pain and my panic exasperates it, or if it’s a sign of MS. I know this probably isn’t a place for a diagnosis, but any thoughts would be appreciated, especially if anyone has been through anxiety/depression related issues that caused them physical pain.

  20. I went to the dr for pain burning then numbness sensations on the right side of my spine he said congratulations u have shingles well on round number 2 of treatment for shingles and i have the same symptoms im thinkin i have nerve damage what else could it be

  21. I am 32 years old and have had M.S. for about six years. I have all these burning itching stabbing hot/cold symptoms. I use a walker and a wheelchair, it hurts very bad to walk. My symptoms started with numb feet and have steadily progressed to physical and mental hell. I go to the bathroom every 30 minutes to put my feet in varying temperatures of water. Cold water sometimes feels warm and warm water sometimes feels cold. My legs feel like they have tiger balm inside the muscles and nerves. As the 30 minute mark approaches to go “soak my feet/legs” it feels as if my legs and feet are getting stiff and they get more painfull to wiggle my toes ore move my legs. I guess medical science as a whole just doesn’t know whats going on with MS and that sucks. Pardon me I have to leave to go do ¥ou know what…

  22. i have only just discovered this site by mistake looking for a answer to this annoying burning pain in pelvis and pubic bone area ! i have had ms isnce 07 still cant get my head around it !! just recovering from a laparoscopy which my gyno performed i think just to put an end to my constant ” i have this burning pain , i dont think its my ms ” my surgeon came to see me after my op ” no everthings fine ! ” oh i said ” you look disapointeed he said , you dont say , got to go back and see him in 6 weeks , how embarrising , looks like i was wrong , it is my ms , my question is , now what ? i take the usual cocktail , baclofen, progabilin , amatriptolene , any suggestions PLEASE !!!!

  23. I would suggest that you try one of the injectable medications for MS. copaxone saved the day for me, but there are many other injectable medications that will help you as well at copaxone. Talk to your neurologist about the injectable medications. Sometimes these drugs work immediately, but with some people they that up to six months to work.

  24. do i have MS? i get pins and needles and numbness all over.

  25. I TOO HAVE PINS AND NEEDLES, NUMBNESS AND PAIN ALL OVER BUT MY NEUROLOGIST SAYS IT IS NOT MS ECAUSE I AM 76 YEARS OLD. i DO HAVE ANOTHER FORM OF DEMYLINATING SYNDROME, BUT HE WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME. i AM IN ABSOLUTE MISERY EVERY DAY.

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