Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects your central nervous system (CNS). In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin, the protective layer that lines nerves.
MS can be accompanied by a variety of symptoms – one of which is numbness and tingling sensation in different parts of your body. However, just because you have this feeling doesn’t mean you have MS. It can be caused by other things as well.
Below, we’ll break down why numbness and tingling occur in MS, how it can feel, and other medical conditions that can cause this feeling.
In MS, cells in the immune system attack a substance called myelin. Myelin lines the nerves in your CNS, which includes your brain and spinal cord.
These immune system attacks damage the myelin as well as the nerves underneath. This can cause the nerve signals to slow down or become interrupted.
Nerve signals are the way your brain sends and receives information from other parts of your body. When nerve pathways are damaged, the brain may not receive sensory information normally.
In this case, various sensory symptoms can appear. It is estimated that around 80 percent of people with MS have sensory symptoms such as numbness and tingling. The medical term for this sensation is paresthesia.
Numbness and tingling are often reported as an early symptom of MS. In some cases, it may be the first symptom you notice. However, it can occur at any stage of MS.
Numbness is a loss or dullness of sensation. This means you may not feel any light touch, pain, or temperature changes.
Numbness can cause difficulty in everyday activities. For example, someone with numb fingers may have difficulty picking up objects or writing. Or a person with a numb leg may have difficulty walking.
It is common to experience numbness along with a tingling sensation. You may have felt this before if you ever had to “fall asleep” an arm or leg by being held in a certain position for too long.
Tingling can also feel like this:
- Needles and pins
- Skin crawl
The intensity of these sensations can vary widely from person to person. Some may experience just mild numbness or tingling sensation. Conversely, others may experience numbness and tingling, which can seriously affect their ability to carry out everyday activities.
Where does it happen
Common places for numbness and tingling in MS include:
These sensations can affect one or both sides of the body. In some cases, they can only affect a specific area of the skin rather than the whole part of the body.
When numbness occurs all over the body or around a limb, it can feel like an oppressive feeling. You can call this the “MS Hug”.
When does it happen?
It can often feel like a numbness and tingling sensation that occurs spontaneously. This means it doesn’t have an obvious trigger.
As mentioned earlier, altered sensations such as numbness and tingling are often an early sign of MS. However, these sensations can come or go at any time.
It is possible that numbness and tingling may occur during an MS relapse. In fact, a 2017 study of 5,311 people with MS found that 70 percent reported numbness and tingling during relapse.
Numbness and tingling are not the only early symptoms of MS you may experience. Others are:
Numbness and tingling can be caused by other causes besides MS. Sometimes, after too long in certain postures, your limbs go numb, such as when your arm or leg falls asleep. But there are other more serious causes as well.
In addition to MS, which can cause numbness and tingling, conditions include:
Tingling can also be caused by infections, such as:
- Lyme disease
The nerve can also become compressed or pinched due to conditions such as:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
A deficiency in the following vitamins can also cause a tingling sensation:
Certain drugs or therapies can sometimes cause sensory side effects, including:
Make an appointment with a doctor for numbness or tingling that:
- develops after an injury
- occurs for no apparent cause and is persistent or keeps coming back
- occurs along with other early symptoms of MS
How is MS treated?
Treatment for MS will vary based on your symptoms and the course of your disease. It can include things like:
- Disease Modifying Therapies. These drugs can be injected or taken as a pill. They are used to slow the progression of MS. The specific type of medication used will depend on the type of MS you have.
- Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids can be used to reduce the inflammation associated with MS relapse. In some cases, they can be used to treat symptoms such as numbness and tingling.
- Plasma exchange. Plasma exchange is a potential treatment for MS relapse in people who have not responded well to corticosteroid treatment.
- Treatment of individual symptoms. Your doctor will also take steps to manage individual symptoms of MS. Possible treatment options are:
- prescription drugs used to treat numbness and tingling, pain, and muscle spasms
- Physiotherapy or occupational therapy to support mobility, balance or the completion of everyday tasks
- Aids such as a walking stick or walking aid to support mobility
- Lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity and trying relaxation techniques
- Psychotherapy to manage symptoms of MS
- Complementary therapies: Some complementary therapies, such as reflexology, vitamin D supplementation, and magnetic therapy, can help with MS. However, more research is needed.
Is there anything i can do at home?
If you experience numbness and tingling, the following home treatments may help relieve or prevent your symptoms:
- Be active. Moving the affected area can help reduce numbness and tingling in some cases. Regular exercise can also help prevent symptoms from recurring.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is good for your overall health. It can also help reduce the likelihood of vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to numbness and tingling.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause or contribute to numbness and tingling sensation. If you drink alcohol, try reducing the amount to see if it helps with your symptoms.
- Relax. Stress can make your symptoms worse, so look for ways to relax, such as yoga or meditation.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. It is possible that numbness and tingling may occur with pain. Taking OTC medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can relieve these symptoms.
Remember, these home remedies are not a substitute for a doctor’s visit. If you have symptoms that are constant, recurring, or worrying, see a doctor.
After making an appointment with a doctor for numbness and tingling, prepare for your visit by:
- Track your symptoms and write down how they feel, what area of your body they appear, and when they occur
- Write down any medications, vitamins, or herbal supplements you take
- Listing of any personal or family history of health conditions
- Prepare questions for the doctor
To diagnose the cause of your symptoms, a doctor will first do a physical exam and review your medical history. You will then do a neurological exam to assess:
- Reflexes and coordination
- Senses like sight and touch
You can then order additional tests, which can include:
- Blood tests to check for underlying health conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, or vitamin deficiencies
- Imaging, such as MRI or CT scans, to create images of your brain or spinal cord
- a lumbar puncture to look for markers related to MS or other neurological disorders
- Nerve conduction studies to assess how quickly electrical impulses travel through your nerves
The specific treatment for numbness and tingling will depend on the cause. After you make a diagnosis, your doctor will develop a treatment plan that is appropriate for your condition.
Numbness and tingling are common in MS. It is often one of the earliest symptoms reported, but it can occur at any point in the course of the disease.
These sensations are most common in the limbs, face, or trunk. They can range in intensity from easy to difficult. Other early symptoms of MS may include, but are not limited to, fatigue, pain, and muscle stiffness.
Many other health conditions can cause numbness and tingling, some of which can be serious. Talk to a doctor if you experience numbness and tingling that is constant or persistent, or with other symptoms of concern.