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13 Points about the Pesky Skin Sensations of Paresthesia

By Gay Falkowski


Paresthesia is an abnormal skin sensation such as tingling, tickling, prickling, itching, numbness, or burning. In people with MS, nerve damage causes these sensations to occur randomly, most often in the hands, arms, legs, or feet – but occasionally in places such as the mouth or chest. Abnormal sensations may be constant or intermittent and they usually subside on their own. Here are some facts about paresthesia along with tips on how to cope if the sensations begin to interfere with your quality of life.
 
1) As with most MS symptoms, the pattern related to paresthesia varies from person to person.
 
2) The sensations of paresthesia usually start from feet or hands, and then move up the legs and arms closer to the core. However, they can start anywhere.
 
3) There is no correlation between the sensations and MS progression. In other words, if your numbness and tingling feel worse, this doesn’t always mean your MS is getting worse.
 
4) Typically paresthesia doesn’t directly contribute to the development of a significant disability.
 
5) Paresthesia symptoms can occur with or without an MS relapse. If they come with a relapse, they may linger as residual symptoms. They can last for a long time or for just a little while.
 
6) When you become aware of losing sensation (or having abnormal function) in your hands, feet, or ankles, take precautions. Because you may be prone to clumsiness, avoid activities that may be unsafe until the symptoms pass. If you can’t feel your feet when you walk, steer clear of rugs and obstacles and stay away from stairs.
 
7) These symptoms tend to increase at night and when you’re exposed to hot temperatures. If they’re keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep, ask your doctor for help finding the right solutions.
 
8) Stress may also trigger a flare in sensory symptoms. When worries overwhelm you, take a break. De-stress through distraction. Suggestions from others with MS:
  • Listen to a podcast or your favorite song.
  • Read a couple of pages in a fun novel.
  • Have a cup of tea.
  • Play a game on your phone.
 
9) Try complementary and alternative medicine. Though more scientific research needs to be done to confirm the benefits, the following CAM approaches have helped some people cope with their sensory problems: Reflexology, acupuncture, biofeedback, and dietary changes (to minimize foods that seem to exacerbate symptoms).
 
10) Low levels of vitamin B12, more common in people with MS, could cause sensory symptoms. Get your level checked, just to be sure, and ask your doctor whether taking a supplement might help you.
 
11) If you’re feeling a burning or tingling sensation in your feet at night, try warming them up if they’re cold, or cooling them down if they’re hot. Temperature extremes can cause abnormal sensations.
 
12) If abnormal sensations are making you miserable or causing pain, and if no treatment strategies are providing relief, consider talking with your doctor about medication. Because medications do not typically eliminate MS-related numbness and tingling, they are often a last resort. You may want to ask your doctor if one of these medications might be an option for you: Neurontin (gabapentin), Elavil (amitriptyline), or Cymbalta (duloextine). Like all drugs, they have possible side effects.
 
13) If your sensory symptom is new, much worse than before, or has lasted more than 24 hours, you may be having a relapse. If this has happened, your doctor will probably put you on a course of Solu-Medrol (after confirming a relapse with an MRI scan).