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Sensory symptoms

People living with multiple sclerosis often experience a change in their skin known as sensory symptoms or altered sensations. These altered sensations can be difficult to describe as there are typically no physical symptoms associated with the sensory change. There are a number of strategies you can use to manage sensory symptoms.

Sensory symptoms and altered sensations

Sensory symptoms, also known as dysaesthesia, paraesthesia or allodynia, are the result of damage to nerves caused by multiple sclerosis. The brain can no longer interpret incoming signals and instead tries to relate the signal to something the body has experienced before – for example being squeezed or burnt, or to something it can imagine.

 

Some of the more common sensory symptoms include:

  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles
  • Tingling
  • Crawling
  • Prickling
  • Burning
  • Tightness
  • Itching

Managing sensory symptoms

There are a number of strategies that can be used to help manage altered sensations:

Medication

Medication may be available.  Talk to your GP or neurologist about the symptom and the impact.  Not all sensory symptoms will be treated – for example, numbness and loss of sensation may not be treated unless they are causing particular distress.

Occupational therapy

If sensory symptoms are interfering with your daily activities, an occupational therapist may be able to provide equipment or other suggestions. This may be particularly important for numbness of the hands and feet, which may make it difficult to perform certain tasks.

Self-management

There are also number of ways you can manage sensory symptoms yourself:

  • Triggers If your sensory symptom is triggered by, for example, touch, heat or wind, you could try avoiding or minimising the trigger. Wearing looser clothing or a scarf, or applying a cool pack may help.
  • Change your habits A different style of pen, cup or knife may be easier to hold. A more upright, supportive chair may help. Think carefully about why you do something the way that you do – it can be surprising how often it’s just out of habit.
  • Sexual issues Numbness or reduced sensation can affect the genital area for both men and women with MS and usually pleasurable sensations can be diminished or become uncomfortable. Discuss this with your partner or, for a tailored plan, a member of your healthcare team.
  • Other options Many of the tips for managing pain also help with sensory symptoms. They include using heat, cold or relaxation techniques as well as keeping positive and sharing your thoughts about your symptoms and their impact.

Getting help

If you have sensory symptom concerns talk to your MS nurse or GP, and at your next visit, tell your neurologist. If the sensation is having a major impact, your health professionals may suggest drug treatments. Otherwise, managing trigger factors or changing how you carry out daily tasks may be helpful.

Contact our NeuroAssist Team

We can help you find an occupational therapist  in your area.

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Download the MSQ Sensory Changes fact sheet

Includes information, resources and tips to help you manage sensory symptoms.

Download here

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