That Tingling Sensation You're Feeling Doesn't Necessarily Mean You Have MS (2022)

You know that feeling when you sleep on your arm in a weird position and a tingling sensation wakes you up? What happens if that feeling lasts for days or even weeks at a time? Getting rid of the unpleasant discomfort is probably your top priority, but you should also check in with your doc, because you could be experiencing the signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, progressive, autoimmune, neurological disorder, in which your own immune system attacks the healthy tissue in the central nervous system— aka your brain and spinal cord. “It specifically targets the myelin, which is a kind of insulating sheath that goes around the nerves in the central nervous system,” says Tyler Kaplan, MD, a neurologist at Rush University Medical Center. The attack on the myelin then causes lesions to develop in the body, which ultimately leads to the commonly known tingling sensation and muscle weakness caused by MS.

About one million adults in the United States are affected by MS, and it most commonly presents in people between the ages of 20 and 50, says Dr. Kaplan. It’s more common in women, and about 80 percent of people with MS have a relapsing-remitting disease course. This means that neurological symptoms attack, or “relapse,” over a period of time, before partially or completely improving, he explains.

Relapsing-remitting MS is the most common of the four known types of the disease, however 15 percent of people have primary progressive MS, in which their symptoms slowly and gradually worsen without any periods of relapse or remission.

But hold on a sec! Let’s clear the air. Just because you’ve experienced a tingling sensation before does not mean you have MS, stresses Dr. Kaplan. “A lot of different things can cause damage to the nerves in your hands and feet, and cause numbness, tingling, and burning sensations,” he explains.

MS is a complex disease that is much more than a tingling sensation, so don’t panic every time you feel numbness or discomfort in your limbs. Consider this a mini lesson in MS and read on to know what the tingling really feels like and how you should cope.

Learn how actress Selma Blair discovered her MS diagnosis:

What causes MS tingling?

Simply put, MS tingling is caused by nerve pain due to damage of the nerves. When the protective myelin gets damaged, the nerve becomes exposed, resulting in sensory changes such as numbness, tingling, and burning, says Dr. Kaplan. The gradual deterioration of the central nervous system then disrupts transmissions between the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body.

The tingling is usually caused by damage to the sensory nerves of the spinal cord, damage within the cerebral cortex (outer surface) of the brain, or damage within the thalamus (brainstem), says Dr. Kaplan. “MS tingling can be due to damage to the nerves really anywhere in the central nervous system, and it’s not necessarily due to one particular area.”

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(Video) What doctors want you to know about the 'tingling' feeling that can be a sign of MS

So, what does it mean if you feel tingling? With MS, people can have chronic tingling and numbness related to underlying nerve damage, or as part of flares or relapses when people develop new symptoms, explains Dr. Kaplan.

“In the MS world, symptoms need to be present for 24 hours before it’s considered a true flare of MS,” he adds. In other words, if you have numbness or tingling that lasts for a few minutes to an hour, it cannot be directly correlated to MS.

Any new symptoms of numbness or tingling that persist for more than 24 hours is a red flag that something abnormal is happening in the body.

What does MS tingling really feel like?

Symptoms vary depending on the individual, but the tingling is usually an unpleasant feeling mimicking needles or an electrical sensation, and can sometimes also cause itchiness, burning, or a crawling sensation on the skin. “The most common thing I’m told by patients is that it’s similar to when your hand or arm falls asleep,” says Dr. Kaplan. And while the tingling is not necessarily painful, it can last for days ultimately causing weakness in the affected area.

It’s also key to note that tingling can happen anywhere in the body, but it’s often localized to a specific spot. “It really depends on where a lesion develops, but most symptoms are isolated to a discrete area,” explains Dr. Kaplan. For example, you may feel the sensation on the right side of your face, or your left arm. “MS doesn’t cause diffuse or generalized tingling or numbness,” he adds. “If someone feels tingly all over their body, that is less likely to be related to MS.”

Many people also use descriptions of numbness and tingling interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Tingling often refers to a prickly sensation, while numbness is associated with the loss or absence of sensation. “They do tend to go together, but you can certainly have one without the other,” adds Dr. Kaplan.

What else can cause tingling?

Okay, now let’s really clear the air. Not all tingling in the body is related to MS! There are multiple other common alternatives that could cause the pins and needles sensation.

(Video) Ask an MS Expert: Is it MS or Something Else?

Peripheral neuropathy causes tingling and is a condition that affects the peripheral nervous system (aka everything outside of the brain and spinal cord), says Dr. Kaplan. “There are always exceptions, but in general the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes,” he adds. “If someone has a known history of diabetes, they should follow up with their doctor, or talk to a doctor about being screened for diabetes if you have high risk factors such as obesity or a family history of diabetes.”

Other culprits of tingling in the body are thyroid dysfunction such as hypothyroidism, and certain vitamin deficiencies like B1, B6, and B12, notes Dr. Kaplan. “These are all things that can be screened by a primary care doctor, because things like diabetes and hypothyroidism are a lot more common than MS and are both treatable disorders.”

Tingling can also be caused by a herniated disk, radiation therapy, shingles, bug bites, and even just sitting or standing in the same position for a long time. Remember that tingling associated with MS typically sustains for more than 24 hours.

What are some other early warning signs?

Tingling is not the only signal of MS. Fatigue, blurred vision, tremors, short term memory loss, and muscle stiffness are also common warning signs to look out for.

In addition, other neurological symptoms such as increased or jumpy reflexes, motor weakness, vertigo or dizziness, and bladder problems such as frequent and urgent urination are also common traits of MS, says Dr. Kaplan. “If you have numbness or tingling along with any of those kinds of symptoms, that is more concerning that something is happening within the brain or the top of the spinal cord.”

What should you do if you feel tingling?

If you feel weak and have a sudden loss of sensation or paralysis on one side of the body in addition to tingling, seek medical care immediately and call 911, says Dr. Kaplan. “That is more concerning for something like a stroke, especially if you are older and have certain risk factors like high blood pressure, hypertension, high cholesterol, or a smoking history.”

(Video) MS Diagnosis in the Black Community

But if tingling symptoms come on over hours or days, then you want to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor where they will evaluate if you need an MRI or additional neurological testing, says Dr. Kaplan. “Sometimes it can take a while to get into an outpatient neurologist, and the sooner you can be seen by a medical professional, and at least evaluated, the better, especially if symptoms are over the course of days or weeks.”

If diagnosed with MS, there are currently 23 FDA approved medications to help treat symptoms and prevent future damage in the brain. “There are pills [you can swallow], IV medication you get at an infusion center, and injectable medications you give yourself at home,” says Dr. Kaplan.

While MS is not curable since it’s a chronic disease and the damage to the nervous system cannot be reversed, it is very much manageable. “The earlier you get treated, the better outcomes we see in long term disability,” stresses Dr. Kaplan. So, even if you don’t have intense symptoms that are currently disabling, book a visit with your doc ASAP to figure out the best course of action.

Andi Breitowich

Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.


Does tingling always mean MS? ›

With MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin, which is the protective coating that lines the nerves. MS can come with a variety of symptoms — one of which is numbness and tingling in various parts of your body. However, just because you're experiencing this sensation doesn't mean you have MS.

How do you know if tingling is MS? ›

Numbness or Tingling

A lack of feeling or a pins-and-needles sensation can be the first sign of the nerve damage from MS. It usually happens in the face, arms, or legs, and on one side of the body. It also tends to go away on its own.

How long does tingling from MS last? ›

How long does MS numbness and tingling last? For most people with MS, the numbness only lasts for a short period of time and will go away naturally. In severe cases, the numbness can affect your mobility, but there are many things you can do to help.

How do you know if you don't have MS? ›

a full neurological examination. MRI scans of the brain, spine or both to look for MS plaques. a spinal tap to look for signs of inflammation and certain immune proteins that are often present in people with MS. blood tests to rule out other disorders.

Does tingling mean nerve damage? ›

Tingling or burning in the arms and legs may be an early sign of nerve damage. These feelings often start in your toes and feet. You may have deep pain. This often happens in the feet and legs.

What does tingling sensation mean? ›

A tingling or numb feeling is a condition called paresthesia. It's a sign that a nerve is irritated and sending extra signals. Think of that pins and needles feeling as a traffic jam in your nervous system.

Does MS make your legs feel heavy? ›

The muscle weakness that you are feeling can be directly linked to MS because the damage to your nerves can disrupt signals to the muscles. This nerve damage makes it hard to move your muscles and leads to a heavy feeling in your legs (or other areas of your body).

When does MS usually start? ›

MS can occur at any age, but onset usually occurs around 20 and 40 years of age. However, younger and older people can be affected. Sex. Women are more than two to three times as likely as men are to have relapsing-remitting MS .

When is MS usually diagnosed? ›

It's most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s, 30s and 40s although it can develop at any age. It's about 2 to 3 times more common in women than men. MS is one of the most common causes of disability in younger adults.

How do you stop MS tingling? ›

Avoiding triggers: Avoiding MS triggers can help a person avoid tingling and other MS symptoms. Receiving psychotherapy: Pain is both physical and psychological. Psychotherapy can help a person learn to cope more effectively with pain, while also offering strategies for managing life with a chronic illness.

How long does MS take to progress? ›

Most symptoms develop abruptly, within hours or days. These attacks or relapses of MS typically reach their peak within a few days at most and then resolve slowly over the next several days or weeks so that a typical relapse will be symptomatic for about eight weeks from onset to recovery.

Can you have MS for years and not know it? ›

“MS is diagnosed most commonly in the ages between 20 and 50. It can occur in children and teens, and those older than 50,” said Smith. “But it can go unrecognized for years.”

Why do I keep thinking I have MS? ›

Multiple sclerosis can trigger anxiety within the brain itself. But the actual reason that MS tends to do this is simply because the disease is scary, which may lead to problematic thinking patterns and negative emotions. Many of those with MS have frightening symptoms and recurrent, relapsing, progressively worse MS.

What blood test is done for MS? ›

While there is no definitive blood test for MS, blood tests can rule out other conditions that cause symptoms similar to those of MS, including lupus erythematosis, Sjogren's, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, some infections, and rare hereditary diseases.

What can be mistaken for MS? ›

Conditions That Can Seem Like MS
  • Epstein-Barr Virus.
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency.
  • Diabetes.
  • Nerve Damage.
  • Eye Problems.
  • Stroke.
  • Lupus and Other Autoimmune Diseases.
  • Parkinson's Disease.
8 Jan 2021

Does tingling mean nerves are healing? ›

How do I know the nerve is recovering? As your nerve recovers, the area the nerve supplies may feel quite unpleasant and tingly. This may be accompanied by an electric shock sensation at the level of the growing nerve fibres; the location of this sensation should move as the nerve heals and grows.

Does an MRI show nerve damage? ›

Does an MRI scan show nerve damage? A neurological examination can diagnose nerve damage, but an MRI scan can pinpoint it. It's crucial to get tested if symptoms worsen to avoid any permanent nerve damage.

What are the first signs of nerve damage? ›

The signs of nerve damage
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
  • Feeling like you're wearing a tight glove or sock.
  • Muscle weakness, especially in your arms or legs.
  • Regularly dropping objects that you're holding.
  • Sharp pains in your hands, arms, legs, or feet.
  • A buzzing sensation that feels like a mild electrical shock.

Which disease has symptoms of numbness or tingling on one side of the body? ›

Stroke. Sudden numbness in the arm, leg, or face, especially on one side of the body, is an early symptom of stroke. Mini-strokes.

Can anxiety cause tingling? ›

Anxiety can cause facial numbness and a tingling sensation. These symptoms of anxiety may trigger fears of a serious medical problem, such as a stroke or head injury. Many different conditions can cause numbness, but tingling and numbness are among the most common anxiety symptoms, especially during a panic attack .

Can vitamin D deficiency cause tingling hands feet? ›

Other symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include depression and pins and needles, tingling or burning sensation in the hands, feet and toes.

What causes tingling throughout the body? ›

Pressure on peripheral nerves from enlarged blood vessels, tumors, scar tissue, or infection. Shingles or herpes zoster infection. Other infections such as HIV/AIDS, leprosy, syphilis, or tuberculosis. Lack of blood supply to an area, such as from hardening of the arteries, frostbite, or vessel inflammation.

Do MS symptoms come and go throughout the day? ›

MS symptoms can come and go and change over time. They can be mild, or more severe. The symptoms of MS are caused by your immune system attacking the nerves in your brain or spinal cord by mistake.

Does anxiety cause tingling in body? ›

It is common for anxiety to cause feelings of numbness and tingling. This can occur almost anywhere on the body but is most commonly felt on the face, hands, arms, feet and legs. This is caused by the blood rushing to the most important parts of the body that can aide fight or flight.

Can anxiety cause tingling? ›

Anxiety can cause facial numbness and a tingling sensation. These symptoms of anxiety may trigger fears of a serious medical problem, such as a stroke or head injury. Many different conditions can cause numbness, but tingling and numbness are among the most common anxiety symptoms, especially during a panic attack .

Which disease has symptoms of numbness or tingling on one side of the body? ›

Stroke. Sudden numbness in the arm, leg, or face, especially on one side of the body, is an early symptom of stroke. Mini-strokes.

Can fibromyalgia cause tingling all over body? ›

People with fibromyalgia may have feelings of numbness and tingling in their hands, arms, feet, legs or sometimes in their face. These feelings can suggest other disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, neuritis or even multiple sclerosis.

What does MS do to your feet? ›

Foot drop, or dropped foot, is a symptom of multiple sclerosis caused by weakness in the ankle or disruption in the nerve pathway between the legs and the brain. This disruption means it is difficult to lift the front of the foot to the correct angle during walking.

How long can you have MS before it is diagnosed? ›

Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be developing the disease for up to five years before the first clinical diagnosis is made, a study has found.

Does MS make your legs feel heavy? ›

The muscle weakness that you are feeling can be directly linked to MS because the damage to your nerves can disrupt signals to the muscles. This nerve damage makes it hard to move your muscles and leads to a heavy feeling in your legs (or other areas of your body).

What does anxiety tingling feel like? ›

For some, it feels like pins and needles — that prickling you get when a body part “falls asleep.” It can also just feel like a complete loss of sensation in one part of your body. You might also notice other sensations, like: tingles. the prickling of your hairs standing up.

Can anxiety mimic MS? ›

Unfortunately, anxiety causes many of the same symptoms as the early stages of MS. MS is one of the health issues that comes up most when those with anxiety search for their symptoms online, and millions of those with anxiety convince themselves that they might have MS.

What does it mean when your left arm and hand tingles? ›

In general, tingling in your left arm relates either to a nerve issue or a problem with blood circulation — but the specific cause can range from something as minor as sleeping on your arm, to a major issue like a heart attack or stroke.

Does high blood pressure cause tingling? ›

Share on Pinterest High blood pressure level is one potential cause of paresthesia, alongside fibromyalgia, a trapped nerve, or stroke. The symptoms of paresthesia or a pinched nerve include: tingling or a “pins and needles” sensation.

How do I get rid of anxiety tingling? ›

How to Stop the Anxiety of Tingling Limbs
  1. Breathe Slower If you control hyperventilation, you control the pins and needles sensation. ...
  2. Moving Even though your body is not technically asleep, moving can still be very advantageous. ...
  3. Light Jogging Some mild jogging can also help you regain some of the sensation.

What can be mistaken for peripheral neuropathy? ›

Peripheral neuropathy is the most common, impacting 7 in 10 diabetics, among others. PN is often mistaken for another common illness, multiple sclerosis (MS).


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