Paresthesia is the clinical name given to unusual sensations of the extremities. A burning or prickling sensation is felt in the hands, forearms, legs or feet. Occasionally, paresthesia will be felt as numbness or skin crawling in the face or scalp.
It is more usual for people to experience temporary paresthesia or pins and needles if they have been sitting with crossed legs, or fallen asleep with an arm crooked under their head. This happens when sustained pressure is applied to a nerve. Normally, the sensation clears when the pressure is removed.
Numbness and tingling are two of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). In fact, they were likely to have been some of your first symptoms and may have been what led to your diagnosis.
Multiple sclerosis presents a myriad of symptoms and learning about MS will become an obsession.
One can only hope they are getting the right diagnosis, because as the disease progresses, it can lead to blindness and deafness.
Interestingly, for these kinds of symptoms to be triggered by Multiple Sclerosis, there is no need to have been exposed to any virus.
There are a few things to consider before you undertake a trip to your neurologist.
Paresthesia in MS
You may have inherited a predisposition to MS through one of two pathways. You can ‘carry’ it like a genetic predisposition (a 1/16 chance) or ‘implicate’ it from another cause (an 8/16 chance).
It is generally accepted that the ‘implicate’ pathway is more common, especially by those inherited from a family member diagnosed with MS.
According to Dr. William Couper, one-fourth to one-fifth of families with inherited MS will develop the disease. Family history is all you need.
In the affected individuals, the ‘1/16’ chance of developing MS is 90%. But when an ‘8/16’ or higher chance is incurred, the disease is more likely to occur. The higher the chance, the more severe the disease is likely to be. Since all inherit ‘MS risk’, inherited genes play a major role in the development of the disease.
If ‘simply’ being exposed to a virus somehow triggered the onset of MS, in most instances you’re probably not an ‘affected’ individual, as you would be more likely to be a carrier and not an affected individual.
There are a few things to keep in mind. Before you schedule an appointment with your neurologist, be sure to ask them the following questions:
- “Who suggested I get tested?”
- “How do I know what the results are going to be?”
- “Am I at risk?”
- “Do I have other brain issues, such as neuropathy or stroke?”
You should discuss these questions before making irreversible decisions about your medical care.
Pressure on Nerves
What happens when your doctor applies pressure to your nerves? History of pressure on the nerves that transmit information to your brain can predict MS or even its onset.
If you acquire MS following exposure to a virus, the possibilities include exposure to the virus itself, a vaccine-induced immune response, or a tumour that develops in the brain.
The exposure could have been either accidental or the result of injury or abuse. If the virus is the trigger, it may also be asymptomatic. However, several individuals derive their first symptoms after prolonged periods of abuse or trauma, such as being repeatedly kicked or having acid thrown at them.
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Some very common symptoms that we usually take for granted are tingling in the feet (known as neuropathy), numbness in the legs, numbness in the hands and/or forearms, facial flushing, and sensitivity to light and noise.
The more serious symptoms called ‘flares’, ‘spots’ and ‘acne’ develop.
What causes numbness?
Interestingly, the mechanisms behind all of these symptoms may involve abnormal electrical activity in the nervous system. Though the exact causes are unknown, genetics and environmental factors are thought to play a role.
The general term is “myelination phobia”. It is a common genetic condition amongst people with MS. A loss of myelination in the brain often results in severe symptoms such as memory deficits, difficulties with physical functioning and speech, and poor quality of life.
If you or someone you know has this condition, seek psychotherapy as a way to ease the pain.
What does MS look like?
A person with MS displays significant symptoms of neuropathy, or weakness, that spreads across the body. These symptoms usually start in the feet and lower legs, and move upwards in the body.
Minimal muscle strength is usually the first symptom, followed by loss of fine motor skills and speech.
The silver lining? This often causes you to doubt and overthink yourself, as you may think your condition is self-inflicted. Often, you may also feel misunderstood, seen as having less value by others. While this is normal, understand that you are worthy and deserving, just as everyone else is. You are no more or less of a person than anyone else.
People with MS tend to suffer from a number of disorders that play a role in nerve stimulation.
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In this group, the most common ones associated with paresthesia are: cerebrovascular accidents (mostly (adult-onset), developmental motor disability, hallucinations, migraine, migraine with aura and hypomania, and generalized pain, and trigeminal neuralgia.
Onset of paresthesia
These can trigger the onset of paresthesia by strictly stimulating a peripheral nerve. How exactly it occurs is often difficult to pin-point. Nerve stimulation is thought to occur through altered activity in the cerebellum, causing pain across the scalp and even in the face. While this can cause fatigue, fainting and reduced mobility, it also may provoke a feeling of extreme discomfort.
The ‘ramping up’ sensation often accompanies migraine, specifically in the head and face. Be prepared for the ‘burning’ sensation as this is a real burn, not an influx of heat, similar to that of a pinprick.
Signs and symptoms can change at any point in the course of the disease.
Once you start a disease management plan, you may be able to slow down the progression of your disability.
A caregiver may notice there is a change in your level of awareness and in how you move your body. Feeling your toes tingle after stepping on a hard floor mirrors the feelings you’ll have when having a baby.
Paresthesia due to nerves is often more obvious in people that have little experience of pain. Working in the basement may make your shoulders ache because new posture will force your elbows to work at an inopportune angle.
Scientists may be able to use electric stimulation to help those with numbness or stunted sensation on painful joints to regain control of movement.
Understanding the basic causes of many sensations is the first step to treating them. By being aware of what triggers your symptoms and learning to manage pain appropriately, you can extend your lifespan by reducing the need for lengthy stays in the hospital or rehabilitation facility.