Dysesthesia is a combination of the Ancient Greek words "dys" and "aesthesis" and translates to "abnormal" or "sensation."
In one study involving 428 people with MS, 12 out of 100 participants had experienced dysesthesia at least once in their lifetime.
Contents of this article:
- Symptoms may be long-term or occur only intermittently.
- Some people with dysesthesia are not too affected while others are disabled by it.
- Dysesthesia is often the result of neurological conditions affecting the nerves.
What causes dysesthesia?
Symptoms of dysesthesia may include an itching sensation that resembles a crawling under the skin.
Dysesthesia is caused by nerve damage, which means their behaviors become unpredictable, causing inappropriate or incorrect signaling.
These confused messages go to the brain, which is often unable to understand them. Consequently, the brain simply picks a known sensation or mix of sensations with which to respond.
In the case of dysesthesia, impaired nerve firing can cause the brain to stimulate abnormal, uncomfortable sensations, ranging from a mild tingling sensation to sharp, stabbing pains.
Although it can be painful, it may be comforting to know that dysesthesia is not a sign of tissue damage. Normally tissues impacted by the condition are otherwise fully functional and healthy, although prolonged misuse or lack of use can leave them damaged.
Symptoms of dysesthesia vary between individuals, but most cases of the condition tend to cause similar symptoms that impact the skin, scalp, face, mouth, torso, arms and legs.
The most common symptoms associated with dysesthesia include:
- an itching, burning sensation that may resemble a crawling under or on the skin
- a restrictive sensation, especially in the trunk or torso, sometimes called an 'MS hug'
- an unexplained painful sensation, which often radiates or spreads
- tingling feelings
- feelings of "pins and needles"
- the sensation of being on fire
- an uncomfortable, hard to describe sensation or feeling of hitting the funny bone or mild muscle spasms
- aching feeling similar to sore muscles
- the sensation of electric shocks
- sharp, stabbing pain
- pain or irritation, even from minor or no touch
- hair loss if the scalp is affected.
Many cases of dysesthesia are caused by progressive conditions, meaning they become worse over time.
Types of dysesthesia
There are different types of dysesthesia that each affects different parts of the body.
Most people with this type of dysesthesia may experience an intensely painful, burning sensation under or on the skin of the scalp. This can lead to excessive scratching, normally without the benefit of any relief, as well as hair loss.
Most people with this type of dysesthesia have extremely sensitive skin that does not respond in a normal way to outside stimuli or touch. In some cases, loose-fitting clothing or a passing breeze may trigger sensations of pain, burning, or irritation.
Someone with this type of dysesthesia experiences the sensation of biting when they are not trying to engage their jaw or bite on to something.
Occlusal dysesthesia is most commonly a side effect or complication of dental surgeries.
Most people experiencing this of dysesthesia have an unexplained sensation of pain or burning in the mouth or oral structures, including the jaw, tongue, or gums.
They may also experience an altered sense of taste or response to temperature and an impaired ability to speak and eat.
How is dysesthesia related to MS?
MS is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and dysesthesia is a symptom of conditions that are nerve-damaging.
Dysesthesia is a symptom of nerve-damaging conditions, in particular, those that target the central nervous system or the spinal cord and brain, such as MS.
MS is an autoimmune condition where the body damages or destroys myelin, the layer of protective fatty tissue that allows electrical impulses to pass through.
When myelin damage in minimal, nerve signaling may only be slightly or temporarily impaired. But extensive myelin damage can shut down nerve communication altogether, which usually causes intense, long-term pain.
Other conditions that cause dysesthesia
Anything that causes nerve damage or that damages the nervous system can cause dysesthesia.
Other causes of dysesthesia include:
- Lyme disease
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- withdrawal from or overuse of drugs or alcohol
- dental surgery
If not causes by a long-term condition, such as MS, then dysesthesia will usually resolve after a few months.
Applying a cool compress to an affected area may be a natural treatment for dysesthesia.
Dysesthesia is treated using medications that change how the central nervous system processes pain. Common pharmaceutical or surgical treatment options for dysesthesia include:
- anti-seizure drugs
- certain benzodiazepines
- oral painkillers or anti-inflammatories
- hydrocortisone creams or ointments
- surgical cutting of the damaged nerves in the most severe cases
Natural treatment options for dysesthesia include:
- applying warm compresses or heating bags to affected area
- wearing pressurized socks, stockings, pants, or gloves if possible
- ensuring enough sleep is obtained
- staying hydrated
- applying a cool compress or ice to the affected area
- using skin-calming lotions, creams, and washes with calamine or aloe
- applying pain-relief creams
- taking over-the-counter pain medications
- engaging in meditation to help work through pain or discomfort
- doing exercises that involve gentle stretching
- finding and avoiding triggers, as much as possible
- avoiding hot weather or environments and not overheating during exercise
- choosing loose-fitting, cool, preferably cotton clothing and bedding
- taking lukewarm baths with Epsom salts and colloidal oats before bedtime
- trying therapies, such as massage, chiropractic, acupuncture or acupressure, and hydrotherapy
- trying biofeedback therapy, involving electrical sensors
- getting involved in support groups
- engaging in counseling
- trying hypnosis
- stopping smoking
Some home remedies may also help reduce the intensity or frequency of symptoms.