Friday, September 9, 2016

My MS Symptoms Top 10 Countdown - #6 All the Paresthesias

If you're not a person with some MS experience and/or you're not a medical professional, you might not know what the term paresthesias even means. I didn't either, but I now know all about them! So sit back, relax, and let me teach all about paresthesias, from the lens of my personal experience.

What is a paresthesia?

Put simply, it's a weird feeling. An abnormal sensation. The most common paresthesias are numbness and a "pins and needles" tingling kind of feeling.

The paresthesias I've experienced:

pic from Des Burns on flickr
  • Numbness. I'm mentioned in passing in previous symptom posts that my first real symptom was numbness. My right foot and pretty much my entire right leg were numb for months. Sometimes it was just a little numb, sometimes it was insanely numb. Think sitting in an ice bath or getting all kinds of novocaine and you'll kind of get the picture. This has returned a handful of times over the years, though it was present more often than not during my first year with MS. Even though it was summer, I wasn't shaving my legs much at the time because shaving a totally numb body part is weird and hard and potentially dangerous. When I finally gave in and went to the doctor, I knew they were going to be examining my legs, so naturally, I had to shave. Ha! I probably shouldn't have, but luckily I didn't severely cut myself. I've experienced numbness in both feet, both legs, both hands, one arm, and over most of my face. Numbness is sometimes just annoying, and it is sometimes debilitating and makes using your body a challenge. 
  • Tingling. This came and went along with the numbness. And it has continued to come and go throughout this last decade.
    pic from Ias - Initially on flickr
    Sometimes it's a huge area that is tingling. Sometimes, it's one tiny little area. Like the tip of my nose. In certain parts of my body, it feels less like a my-foot-fell-asleep-pins-and-needles feeling and more like a part of my body is like a cell phone set to vibrate and it's ringing. You know how it feels when a cell phone vibrates and it's touching  part of your body? It's kind of like that but often isolated to weird little (like one square centimeter) spots. It can also cover a large area all at once. Tingling is mostly just annoying but at an insanely high level of annoyance. When the tip of your nose is "buzzing" a couple of times a minute off and on all day long (but more on than off), it's pretty impossible to concentrate on anything else at all. For me, the tingling sensation has run the gamut from pins-and-needles to burning to the buzzing vibration sensation, and it's happened in places all over my body.
  • Temperature Confusion. There's probably an official science-y word for this, but I don't know what it is. This is when hot feels like cold and/or cold feels like hot. This was happening early on when the leg was super numb. Showering was confusing because part of my body knew the temp was normal (warm-hot), but part of my body was angrily convinced it was actually freezing cold. But at the time, I wasn't even really cognitively aware of this. I just knew something felt weird and wrong and off. At the first neurologist appointment (after the first horrible GP appointments), the doctor put a metal tool of some kind under hot water from the tap for a while and then pressed it against my hand where I confirmed that it was indeed hot. Then he pressed it on my leg or foot, and suddenly it was ice cold! It suddenly all made sense, and that's when I learned this was actually a symptom and a real thing. In a sort of related (but not really) way, sometimes numbness feels like coldness and tingling/burning feels like heat. All of these symptoms can be hard to put into words that really describe what they feel like.
  • Lhermitte’s Sign. I don't know if this really belongs in the paresthesia category, but I'm putting it here. This is often described as a kind of nerve pain, but in no way have I ever found it to be painful. In fact, I often enjoy the sensation. This is when you lower your chin down towards your chest and you feel an electric shock-like sensation running all the way down your spine. It's usually described as an electric shock, but for me, it's more of a buzz similar to that cell phone vibration I mentioned above as a kind of tingle. For me, it is not at all painful. This is something that really weirded me out early on, though. I kept feeling this weird buzz, and I kept searching for my phone since I assumed that's what I was feeling, but it was never there. I hadn't put two and two together to realize that it happened whenever I moved my head in a certain way (bending it down/forward even slightly), but again in that first appointment, the doctor told me to bring my chin down towards my chest and aha lightbulb moment! Lhermitte's has visited me during pretty much every relapse, but also always pops up when I am particularly tired or exhausted or worn out. It's kind of an early warning system that I need to get more sleep or take it easy.
  • Itching. Itching? Yes, itching! Want to know more? Well, this is one is such a huge one for me (ABSOLUTE WORST SYMPTOM OF ALL THE HORRIBLE SYMPTOMS I AM NOT KIDDING) so it's getting its own spot in the countdown because I can't limit my feelings about this one to one hearty paragraph on this list. 

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