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Paroxysmal Spells: The MS Symptom That Took Me by Surprise

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As a member of many multiple sclerosis (MS) support groups, I immediately turn to my friends in the community for advice and support when I have a new symptom. One unique symptom I have been learning more about is called paroxysmal spells.

Well, here’s what happened and a little more about what a paroxysmal spell is.

I entered the conference hall for a lunch seminar and the chatter filled the space. I found a seat next to my sales partner and we settled into our seats while introducing ourselves to the professionals around us. That was when it hit me – the chatter in the room overwhelmed my senses while I was being introduced to a woman, and I blanked out. I remember my vision twinkling and I’m still not sure how long I was out for, but the people around me were concerned with my distraction and unresponsiveness.

Apparently, I had a blank stare like I was completely ignoring the people around me but I still don’t know what I missed. The last thing I heard when I came back to my senses was, “She’s not even listening to me anyways!” as the woman seemed a bit agitated.

The rest of the meeting was a total blur. I felt like I was high on laughing gas…my face tingled and I was in a dream-like trance to remain calm. As soon as I left I called my neurologist who instructed me to visit the ER.

Five resident neurologists in the ER visited me at once. The lead resident seemed inexperienced and confused, yet seemed to wear her “I know everything” hat. They were convinced I wasn’t having seizures since “it’s not a symptom of MS” – however, one resident noticed irregular movement of my eyes and mentioned how similar my experienced reflected paroxysmal symptoms. I wanted to applaud him and tell him how wonderful he will be when he enters the field… but I never saw this group of students again.

The following day I stopped in to see my neurologist. After explaining the situation, she immediately knew it was paroxysmal symptoms. Per the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, seizures are uncommon among people with MS. However, paroxysmal symptoms in MS affect two to five percent, resembling the following:

  • Paroxysmal pain (e.g. TMJ)
  • Tonic spasms of an arm or leg
  • Lhermitte’s sign (electric shock-like sensation down the spine when neck is flexed)
  • Uhthoff’s symptoms (blurring vision with exertion and elevated body temperature)

I had complained about my jaw and visited my dentist the week before. I have chronic muscle spasms all over my body, including my face and I have had Lhermitte’s and Uhthoff’s since my diagnosis.

What a week! I wanted to make sure to share my experience with you, should you ever experience something similar. If you are questioned, stick to your senses and understand that only you can understand what you are feeling and what you experienced. Don’t doubt yourself. You will get through this.

Originally published: June 15, 2017
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