Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of drugs information within the brain and between the brain and body. Numbness and tingling in limbs are among the early signs of MS, often heralding the onset of this ailment. Understanding these symptoms is crucial for early intervention and better management of the disease.
Understanding Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath that covers nerve fibres, causing communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Over time, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.
Common Symptoms of MS
Symptoms of MS can vary widely from person to person but often include fatigue, difficulty walking, muscle spasms, numbness or weakness in limbs, and problems with coordination and balance.
Numbness and Tingling: Early Signs of MS
What Causes Numbness and Tingling in MS?
The numbness and tingling sensation in MS patients arise from the loss of myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibres, which leads to disrupted nerve signals.
How Common are Numbness and Tingling in MS?
Numbness and tingling are common symptoms, with many individuals experiencing these sensations as initial manifestations of MS. These abnormal sensations often take the form of numbness or tingling in different parts of the body, such as the arms, legs or trunk, which typically spread out over a few days. The sensations might feel like pins and needles, burning, or crawling, and although they seem to be in the skin, they are actually due to the damage caused by MS, which disrupts messages passing along the nerves.
In diagnosing the numbness and tingling associated with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a multifaceted approach is typically adopted to ensure an accurate diagnosis due to the complexity of the condition. Here are some detailed steps and examinations involved in diagnosing numbness and tingling in MS, augmented with additional insights from various UK-based resources:
Medical History and Physical Examination
Diagnosing MS usually begins with a thorough medical history and a physical examination. The medical history aids in identifying any previous incidents of symptoms and other related health issues. During the physical examination, healthcare providers assess muscle strength, reflexes, and coordination to ascertain the extent of nerve damage. Any abnormalities or changes in vision, eye movements, hand or leg strength, balance and coordination, speech, and reflexes are looked for as these may indicate nerve damage suggestive of MS1.
A neurological examination is a crucial part of the diagnostic process, where a neurologist evaluates various aspects, including the patient's vision, eye movements, hand or leg strength, balance, coordination, speech, and reflexes. This examination aims to uncover any abnormalities, changes, or weaknesses indicative of MS.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a pivotal tool in diagnosing MS. It's a non-invasive procedure that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the brain and spinal cord, highlighting areas of scarring (Sclerosis) and active inflammation. The MRI can reveal damage or scarring of the myelin sheath surrounding the brain and spinal cord nerves, a hallmark of MS. This diagnostic tool is instrumental in confirming the diagnosis and understanding the disease's progression.
Evoked Potential Test
Evoked potential tests measure the brain's electrical activity in response to visual or auditory stimuli. These tests can detect if there's a delay in the response time, which might indicate the demyelination of nerve pathways. The most common type of evoked potential test assesses how well the eyes work by showing light patterns to the eyes while monitoring brainwaves using electrodes placed on the head. This test can show whether it takes the brain longer than usual to receive messages, which might indicate MS.
A lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, is a procedure where a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is collected by inserting a needle into the lower back. This fluid is then examined for abnormalities indicative of MS, such as unusual immune system activity or oligoclonal bands. The lumbar puncture helps identify any changes in the fluid suggesting problems with the nervous system.
Blood tests are often performed to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms experienced, such as vitamin deficiencies or other similar conditions like neuromyelitis optica. Although there isn't a definitive blood test for MS, blood analysis can help eliminate other possible conditions, aiding in diagnosing MS1.
Other Diagnostic Tests
Other diagnostic tests and measures, like examining paroxysmal symptoms, which include altered sensations such as itching, numbness, tingling, burning, or aching, can be conducted to evaluate the severity of numbness and tingling in MS patients.
These diagnostic measures encapsulate a holistic approach aimed at providing a clear understanding of the situation, thereby guiding healthcare providers in proposing an effective management plan for the symptoms of numbness and tingling in MS patients.
One of the medications utilized to manage numbness and tingling in MS is Gabapentin. Gabapentin, also known by its brand name Neurontin, is a drug used for treating neuropathic pain in MS, often addressing altered sensations such as numbness, burning, or pins and needles. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also recommends Gabapentin as one of the first drugs to try in treating spasms and spasticity, which are common in MS. Gabapentin is administered orally in the form of tablets, capsules, or liquid, typically three times a day. The dosage usually starts low and gradually increases to find a practical level with minimal side effects. It's important to note that when discontinuing Gabapentin, the dosage should be gradually reduced over a minimum of one week to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Steroids are another avenue for managing severe relapses in MS, which could involve symptoms of numbness and tingling. However, steroids are usually reserved for severe relapses that significantly affect one's ability to perform day-to-day activities. The administration of steroids aims to reduce inflammation, shorten the relapse duration, and speed up recovery. They can be administered orally or intravenously, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the patient's situation. It's essential to discuss with healthcare providers before opting for steroid treatment due to the potential side effects, which could range from short-term issues like sleep disturbances and increased appetite to long-term problems like bone thinning (osteoporosis) if used frequently.
Rehabilitation is crucial in managing MS symptoms, including numbness and tingling. This involves a multidisciplinary approach encompassing physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dietary advice, and other supportive services to lessen the impact of MS on an individual's life. Rehabilitation can be particularly beneficial post-relapse, aiding in better recovery, whether or not steroids were used for treatment. Coordinating rehabilitation services often involves a central point of contact, such as an MS nurse, a district nurse, or a GP, who ensures referrals to other professionals and addresses questions concerning rehabilitation services.
Opting for No Treatment
Individuals might opt not to have treatment for milder sensory relapses, like tingling or numbness. This option is often viable and should be discussed with the healthcare team to ensure it's the right choice based on the individual's overall health status and the severity of the symptoms.
Understanding the Underlying Mechanism
The abnormal sensations of numbness and tingling are often categorized as neuropathic pain, which arises due to the damage caused by MS to the nerve coverings in the brain and spinal cord. This damage interferes with the standard transmission of messages to the brain, which may interpret these disrupted messages as pain or unusual feelings like numbness, pins and needles, crawling, or burning sensations.
Cannabis and Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
The use of cannabis in mitigating symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has garnered attention, with particular interest in its impact on numbness and tingling, familiar sensations experienced by MS patients. The compounds chiefly responsible for the therapeutic effects of cannabis are cannabinoids, with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) being the most studied.
In the UK, Sativex (nabiximols) is a notable cannabis-based medicine licensed for treating muscle spasticity in MS. It's an oral spray formulated with an equal mix of THC and CBD. England's National Health Service (NHS) has approved Sativex for treating 'moderate' to 'severe' spasticity when other treatments have not provided relief.
Efficacy of Cannabis:
Central Pain Alleviation:
Some studies have indicated that cannabis-based medicines in pill or spray form can alleviate central pain, encompassing burning sensations, pins and needles, or numbness commonly experienced by MS patients.
Alleviation of Spasticity:
Research has shown that people with MS using cannabis-based products reported improvements in spasticity, which often accompanies sensations of numbness and tingling, more than those on a placebo. A notable study in the UK, the CAMS study, involved 660 participants and explored the effects of oral cannabis extract and dronabinol (a chemically synthesized form of THC) on MS symptoms, primarily spasticity. While the results regarding spasticity were mixed, there was a treatment effect on self-reported spasticity and pain, with 61% on oral cannabis extract and 60% on dronabinol reporting improvements, compared to 46% on placebo.
Cannabis Usage among MS Patients:
A survey conducted in 2014 revealed that one in five individuals with MS had used cannabis to alleviate symptoms, stating it helped with muscle spasms or stiffness (spasticity) and pain.
General Research on Cannabis and MS:
The impact of cannabis on MS symptoms has been extensively researched, albeit with mixed results. While some studies show potential benefits in symptom management, others find no significant effect, especially concerning the rate of MS progression.
It's essential to note that while cannabis might offer some relief from symptoms like numbness and tingling, it also carries risks such as potential addiction and mental health issues like anxiety and memory loss, especially considering that MS can impair short-term memory and processing speed.
Navigating the world of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) necessitates a nuanced understanding of its multifaceted symptoms, like numbness and tingling, which often herald its onset. Delving into the intricacies of these sensations, their diagnostic pathways, and the various management strategies, including medicinal, rehabilitative, and alternative approaches like cannabis, unveils a realm of tailored interventions. These elucidations not only demystify the numbing cloak of MS but also beckon a beacon of hope for those entwined in its grasp, spotlighting the strides of medical science in alleviating the encumbrance of MS.
- NHS - Multiple Sclerosis Overview
- NHS - Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
- NHS - Multiple Sclerosis Causes
- MS Society - What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
- MS Trust - What is MS?
- MS Trust - MS signs and symptoms
- MS Society - Early Signs of MS - Common Signs and Symptoms
- MS Trust - Altered sensations
- Carenity - Multiple Sclerosis: What are the early warning signs of the disease?
- Diagnosis of MS: MS Society
- Diagnosing MS: NHS
- Diagnosis and Management of MS: NICE
- Paroxysmal symptoms in MS: MS Trust
- Managing relapses - MS Society
- Gabapentin - MS Trust
- Pain - MS Trust
- Cannabis and MS research: MS Society
- About Cannabis and MS: MS Society
- Cannabis treatments and therapies for MS: MS Society
- Cannabis: MS Trust
- Cannabis for MS on prescription: MS Society
- Cannabis-based drugs to help epilepsy and MS approved for NHS use: Sky News.