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The Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis I Didn’t Know About

Because multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the neurological system, there are a whole plethora of symptoms that it can cause, depending on the location of your lesions.

Most well-known and visible symptoms are mobility problems affecting gait and leg strength, which can require aids such as canes, and in some cases may require a person to use a wheelchair on a permanent or part-time basis.

My own MS symptoms have been of the invisible variety, however. My symptoms have included mood problems and cognitive issues, such as problems with short-term memory and word recall, as well as difficulties with my executive function.

I have also experienced sensory problems such as numbness and pins and needles in my hands, which limits the dexterity of my fingers. Electric shock like sensations that run down my legs when I bend my neck, which is called Lhermitte’s sign. As well as the infamous “MS hug” which feels like I am wearing a tight girdle around the trunk of my body, this gives a sensation of an invisible hug.

However, one problem I never knew about until it happened to me was the MS itch.

The MS itch for me began in the evenings, mainly when I was winding down after a busy day. When it first started, I thought some sort of bug must have bitten me. It could not have been mosquito’s however, as it was winter.

I began to think that maybe my dog might have had fleas, but I had been giving her flea treatment since she was a puppy, and she was as clean as a whistle.

I also didn’t have any visible bite marks or welts on my hands which occurs when you have insect bites.

The itching was unbearable and in both my hands, which made scratching them a challenge. I would scratch one hand, and the hand I was using to scratch would begin to itch and burn, so I would have to switch the hand I was scratching, then switch again.

Have you ever had an itch that you could not scratch?

It is unbearable and almost drove me to tears of frustration, and it was keeping me awake at night with this constant itching!

The itching went on for weeks with no relief and still no visible sign of what could be causing it.

As with any new unexplainable symptom, I naturally jump to the, “Maybe it’s my MS,” conclusion, which isn’t the wisest thing to do, but that is just what I usually think is the cause of any strange symptoms.

So, I asked my wonderful MS support group.

“Does anyone else’s MS cause itching? I have this horrible itch at night, and I can’t understand what’s causing it… my hands look fine.”

A flood of responses came back.

“It’s the MS itch, I get it too.”

“What can I do?” I asked. “Will calamine lotion help?”

Some say yes… most say no.

I was so relieved to discover it was not just me experiencing this terrible itching. I did not even know this was a symptom of multiple sclerosis.

The MS itch, or as it is medically known, pruritus, is a sensory disturbance similar to the numbness and pins and needles that I also experience in my hands (dysesthesias), and is a common early warning sign of multiple sclerosis. In fact, dysesthesias was my first noticeable MS symptom.

Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to soothe the itch, as topical treatments will not work because there is no direct cause for the irritation on the skin. People who experience pruritus do need to be careful though as itching can be a sign of irritation or a side effect of some MS medications, especially intravenous treatments.

My doctor confirmed an irritant did not cause the itching, and over time the itching passed.

I noticed it would always happen when I was tired, so I addressed the causes of my fatigue instead. I made sure I paced myself during the day and took plenty of breaks. If my hands began to itch I would do some yoga stretches and twists, as it alleviates the pins and needles sensation in my hands.

So there you go. A little-known MS symptom. Well, one I did not know about, that is.

The MS itch.

Not the more severe symptom I have dealt with, but definitely one of the most irritating I have come across.

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Thinkstock Image By: iascic