Ask the Expert – Numbness and MS

Featuring Barry A. Hendin, MD
MSAA’s Chief Medical Officer

Headshot of doctor Barry Hendin, chief medical officer for MSAA

Question: Does new or increased numbness indicate a worsening of MS, and is this symptom typically permanent, or can it subside on its own?

Dr. Hendin: On the one hand, for people with MS, any new symptom – including numbness – should lead to the question of whether the new symptom was caused by MS. On the other hand, numbness is nonspecific and can be caused by a number of unrelated conditions, including neuropathy and nerve root compressions. Such issues can be caused by neck problems, back problems, or diabetes, for example. So when numbness occurs, it is a good time to speak to your neurologist to determine whether the new onset of numbness is, in fact, due to an MS relapse. If the numbness is new and has lasted for more than 24 hours, it does warrant a discussion to consider the possibility of a relapse.

The new onset of persistent numbness from an MS relapse can have different outcomes. Often the numbness eventually resolves, but there are instances in which the numbness persists for years. Even in instances when the numbness has resolved, it may briefly reoccur when you are overheated, fatigued, stressed, or in the midst of an infection with a fever. This is known as a pseudo-relapse (or pseudoexacerbation). Brief numbness lasting less than 24 hours is not a sign of a relapse. Although different treatments are available for numbness, this condition is typically harmless and medications are usually not prescribed unless it becomes painful. 

Barry A. Hendin, MD, is a neurologist and Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Arizona. He is also Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Banner University Medical Center and Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Arizona Medical School.

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About MSAA

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) is a national nonprofit organization and leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a Helpline with trained specialists; award-winning publications, including, The Motivator; MSAA’s nationally recognized website, featuring educational videos, webinars, and research updates; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; safety and mobility equipment products; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; MRI funding; My MSAA Community, a peer-to-peer online support forum; MS Conversations blog; a clinical trial search tool; podcasts; and more. For additional information, please visit www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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