Dysesthesia is a neurological condition which is characterized by unpleasant and abnormal sensations. It could affect the skin, scalp, mouth, or legs. This HealthHearty write-up focuses on the causes and symptoms of dysesthesia.
|Cutaneous dysesthesia is characterized by strange and unpleasant sensations that occur due to contact with an ordinary stimulus such as clothing or bedding. Even the touch of clothing or friction from clothes or fabrics can cause pain and strange sensations. As a result, the affected individuals could become susceptible to anxiety or depression.
The term ‘dysesthesia’ is derived from Greek words ‘dys’, which means bad or abnormal, and ‘aesthesis’, which means sensation. A distortion of the sense of touch, this neurological condition can sometimes be accompanied by paresthesia. The latter refers to abnormal skin sensations, which might include pins-and-needle sensation, burning sensation, and itching, whereas the former can be defined as an unpleasant and abnormal sense of touch. While paresthesia is characterized by altered sensations, these sensations are not painful. On the other hand, the symptoms of dysesthesia include discomforting sensations that could be experienced in the absence of stimulus, or even when the stimulus is ordinary or incapable of causing harm. It includes abnormal and disagreeable sensations. This condition mostly affects the skin, scalp, mouth, or legs.
As mentioned earlier, dysesthesia is a neurological condition that might occur due to damage to the sensory nerves or peripheral nerves. It could be the result of damage involving the sensory pathways. The medical conditions that might be associated with such unpleasant and abnormal sensations include:
✦ Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes. It occurs in the event of damage to the nerves in the body due to high blood sugar levels. Neuropathic pain can emerge in the form of dysesthesia. It could cause a spontaneous or evoked burning pain. The pain might be sharp. At times, it could be deep and aching.
Also called herpes zoster, shingles occurs when the Varicella-zoster virus, which is the virus that causes chickenpox, gets reactivated. After chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. However, it can get reactivated in case of stress, especially in individuals with a compromised immune system. This condition causes pain, numbness, burning sensation, itching, tingling, and other abnormal sensations.
✦ Guillain-Barré Syndrome
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare but serious medical condition wherein the immune system mistakenly attacks the nerves, thereby causing inflammation. This leads to weakness and tingling in the legs and fingers. It could also affect the arms and the upper body. Most patients complain of abnormal sensations and paresthesia.
✦ Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome
Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial infection that gives rise to symptoms such as fever, joint pain, headaches, a rash that looks like bull’s eye, muscle pain, fatigue, and stiff neck. Post treatment, some patients might experience joint pain, muscle pain, and neurological symptoms such as paresthesia/dysesthesia.
✦ Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a serious condition that affects the central nervous system. It is characterized by demyelination, which refers to the loss of the myelin sheath that protects certain nerve fibers. When the central or peripheral sensory nerve pathways get damaged, it can lead to an impairment in sensation. The affected individuals complain of burning, aching, or tingling in the limbs under such circumstances.
Besides the aforementioned conditions, dysesthesia could also occur due to alcohol/drug withdrawal, peripheral neuropathy that is induced by chemotherapy, a stroke affecting the ventral posterolateral (VPL) nucleus of the thalamus, etc. At times, the symptoms could also be linked to psychological disorders. In a study involving women affected by chronic pain or itchy scalp without any apparent physical cause, the women were found to be affected by psychological disorders. The symptoms resolved when these women were administered low doses of antidepressants.
This neurological condition is classified on the basis of the part of the body where the sensation is experienced and the type of sensation. It is categorized into the following types.
✦ Cutaneous Dysesthesia
In this type, even a light touch might seem to be painful or unpleasant. The symptoms include:
➟ Perception of pain from normal stimuli such as clothing, bedding, or a light touch
➟ Pain or abnormal sensations might be experienced if people or objects brush against the body
➟ Feeling of something being under the skin
➟ Burning sensation
➟ Mild to incapacitating pain
Besides the aforementioned sensations, the affected individuals could also experience extremely unpleasant sensations of being stabbed or frozen. Studies have also shown that individuals affected by this condition might develop chronic anxiety. This condition could lead to anxiety, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, depression, or somatoform disorder.
✦ Scalp Dysesthesia
As the name suggests, this condition affects the scalp. It is characterized by the following symptoms:
➟ Pain or burning sensations on or under the surface of the scalp
➟ Excessive itching on the scalp
✦ Occlusal Dysesthesia
This type is characterized by the perception of a biting sensation in the mouth. It must be noted that the sensation occurs in the absence of any apparent damage to oral tissues or structures in the face, upper jaw, etc. It mostly affects individuals who have recently undergone a dental surgery.
✦ Burning Dysesthesia
When a person complains of an abnormal burning sensation wherein he/she feels that a particular part of the body is on fire, he/she might be diagnosed with burning dysesthesia. There have been cases when the symptoms were experienced without any apparent damage to the skin or other tissue.
As far as the treatment of this condition is concerned, the administration of antidepressants might prove beneficial, as this condition could cause anxiety or depression. In case of individuals affected by occlusal dysesthesia, oral muscle physical therapy might work to some extent. If the abnormal sensations are caused due to other medical conditions, the symptoms might resolve by managing the underlying condition. Joining a support group might also help.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.