Symptom Series: Numbness and tingling

Learn more about numbness and how it may affect someone living with MS
Numbs hands from multiple sclerosis

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently. No two people have the exact same symptoms or experiences with the disease. Since MS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, you may have a wide range of symptoms. Some are visible and can be seen by others. Others are invisible and are only seen or felt by the person with MS.

Through our MS Symptom Series , we’ll provide some information and tips about different symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. Remember, your healthcare team should be your primary source for information or any questions.

Numbness and tingling are some of the most common symptoms in multiple sclerosis (MS). They are often some of the first symptoms people experience. While some cases of numbness and tingling can be severe, more often they are mild. Think of nerves as wires and myelin as the protective coating. When that protective coating breaks down because of MS, the exposed nerves can disrupt the signals. This disruption can lead to numbness and tingling.

Numbness and tingling can be separated into four categories:

  • Paresthesia: The feeling of pins and needles, or a crawling sensation
  • Dysesthesia: A burning sensation along the nerve that may change how you feel pressure
  • Hyperpathia: An increased sensitivity to pain
  • Anesthesia: A complete loss of any sensation

The first three types of numbness are more common in people with MS, and may vary in timing and severity. The fourth type, anesthesia, is less common in MS. While everyone’s experience is different, these sensations are often temporary and resolve on their own.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you are experiencing numbness or tingling:

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Communicate with your healthcare team

Although numbness and tingling may be mild in many cases, it’s important to let your healthcare and support teams know what you’re feeling. Your healthcare team may discuss different options to address this symptom if it is severe. If you find it difficult to do physical activities, such as writing, dressing, or walking, also consider telling your care partner, as he or she may be able to assist you.

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Be mindful when eating

If your face is numb, be cautious when you’re eating. Try to take slow bites and monitor your chewing. This may help you avoid biting your cheeks, tongue, or lips.

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Use caution around hot objects

Whether you have MS or not, you should always handle hot objects with caution. If you are experiencing numbness, you should be particularly careful, as you may not feel a burn. Be careful around fires, hot water, stoves, and other hot items.

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Consider assistive walking devices

Some people with MS experience numbness and tingling in their feet or legs. This may make walking difficult. Consider using a cane or walker to help keep your balance if you have difficulty walking.

Remember, even though these symptoms are often temporary, you should always take extra steps of caution and let your healthcare team know how you are feeling.

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