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What are the sensory symptoms of a spinal cord attack of MS?

Louis Rosner
Neurology

Sensory symptoms consist of disturbances in feeling in the limbs or on the trunk. Symptoms occur because the sensory pathways in the spinal cord are blocked. These disturbances may include one or more of the following: numbness, unpleasant feelings, and Lhermitte's sign. Numbness, or loss of feeling, may involve just superficial, or skin, sensation, such as the inability to feel a light touch with a wisp of cotton, a pin prick, or the sensations of hot and cold temperatures. Or it may involve deeper sensibility, such as the loss of position sense, the ability to tell the movement, for example, of a finger or toe up or down. When numbness is superficial there is usually no trouble in the use of the limb. If the numbness involves position sense in the hand or foot, the limb will be clumsy in its use.

Unpleasant feelings, or paresthesias, include pins-and needles or tingling, buzzing, and crawling feelings; hot and burning feelings; wetness; tight-band feelings on the trunk (girdle sensations) or around a limb; or feelings of swelling. Some sensations are more difficult to describe. One patient will describe feelings of extra padding (on the sole of the foot, for example); another will describe the presence of a nonexistent foreign object such as crumpled tissue paper or a bandage. Sometimes there will be a feeling of vibration for no apparent reason. Sometimes the skin can feel as if it's burning or cold, or snowflakes falling on the skin can "feel like needles." These odd symptoms, like many others of multiple sclerosis (MS), can unfortunately be mistaken for those of hysteria.

Lhermitte's sign, named after a French neurologist, is technically a symptom, since it is a sensation the patient describes. Many compare the feeling to a lightning like electrical sensation, or buzzing feeling, that goes down the back to the arms or legs when the head is bent forward as in a barber's chair. The sensation only lasts a second or two. Bending the neck is generally the cause, but coughing or laughing can also trigger it. MS is the most common cause of Lhermitte's sign, but not the only cause. It must be said again that numbness and paresthesias can be totally benign symptoms, indicating no neurological disease whatsoever. But if the numbness climbs up the legs or arms onto the trunk and comes to a stop at a particular level, then a neurological problem is definitely suggested.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.