As a neurological condition, multiple sclerosis (MS) can produce random, uncomfortable, and even painful sensations in various parts of the body. Although the more common symptoms include muscle spasms, the MS hug, numbness, and fatigue, MS can also cause unusual physical sensations, such as feelings related to temperature.
One myMSteam member asked, “Has anyone else had a warm sensation in their head or brain?”
If you have MS, it’s important to know that symptoms include a range of central nervous system issues, including unusual feelings called altered sensations or paresthesias. Here, we discuss possible reasons your head might feel abnormally warm and what you should do if you experience this type of symptom.
Members of MyMSTeam have experienced altered sensations, including those related to an unusually warm head. One member explained, “I was suddenly awakened this morning around 4:30 a.m. with this weird, almost burning, sensation on the right side of my head and brain area.”
Another described a similar sensation triggered by external factors: “If it is a hot day, I can get an intense feeling of being hot in my face and head. Usually, I get a little disoriented and dizzy, too.”
Altered sensations vary among people living with MS. One MyMSteam member mentioned a slightly different experience: “If we are talking about the same feeling, it felt like warm fluid was moving through my head.” Many sensory symptoms are not painful, but they can be disconcerting. “It was really creepy, but it didn’t hurt per se,” shared one MyMSTeam member.
These feelings can happen at any stage of MS. “When I first started having symptoms, I remember that the top of my head felt like it was burning,” one member said, adding that the symptom was resolved through MS treatment: “I haven’t felt my head burning since I got on all of this medicine.”
If you’re living with MS, you may be familiar with altered sensations in different parts of your body. Altered sensations are fairly common and are sometimes the first symptom of MS. Although considered a type of neuropathic (nerve) pain, these sensations don’t always feel painful.
In addition to temperature-related changes, common altered sensations include:
Doctors may refer to those sensations as paresthesias. When the sensations are painful, they are called dysesthesias. Common dysesthesias include:
The next time you experience altered sensations, think about how to best describe them. Do they hurt? When did they start? How long did they last? What made them go away? Recognizing patterns can help you avoid triggering altered sensations and MS paresthesias and give you strategies to better deal with them when they do occur.
A sensation of warmth in the face, on the scalp, or inside the head can occur for many reasons. For someone with MS, these feelings are likely caused by nerve damage.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that disrupts the nerves that carry sensory information between your brain and spinal cord. MS produces dysfunction in the immune system, resulting in damage and lesions to myelin — the protective layer around nerve cells.
This damage can cause your nerves to produce random signals and send them to your brain, which may confuse these random signals with sensations that are more familiar but aren’t occurring, such as outside temperature changes. This phenomenon is a reason you may experience altered sensations, like warmth or coldness, although the actual temperature hasn’t changed.
The exact number of people with MS who experience temperature-related altered sensations, like feeling warmth in the head, is unclear. A study published in Multiple Sclerosis found that of 224 people with MS, about 40 percent experienced altered sensations — including burning, itching, and crawling, as well as electric shocks —that lasted seconds to minutes.
Altered sensations or paresthesias from MS can be managed in several ways. Depending on your symptoms and how severe they are, your MS care provider may prescribe medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or antidepressants. They may also suggest resources like occupational therapy, which can help you cope with the effects of altered sensations on your daily life.
Here are other ways to help manage altered sensations with MS.
Paresthesias are more likely to arise during an MS flare or relapse. Speak with your health care provider about all your symptoms, including any altered sensations. Recognizing these and other symptoms is crucial to developing the best treatment plan for your unique health needs.
For example, disease-modifying treatments can help stop MS disease progression, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce inflammation and pain. During MS flares (attacks), your neurologist may prescribe drugs like corticosteroids and plasma exchange treatment. These medications and procedures should help relieve many of your MS symptoms, including paresthesias.
If your paresthesias are temperature-oriented, use cold packs to overcome the sensation or at least distract from the feeling until it goes away naturally. Taking a cold shower or bath may also help dull the sensation. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, hot temperatures outside may worsen symptoms of MS. If you recognize heat as a trigger, try to combat its effects before symptoms worsen.
Consider trying exercises that incorporate mindfulness, a meditation technique that has been linked to greater awareness and control over physical sensations. Mindfulness can help manage paresthesias and other MS symptoms.
Physical activity has also been shown to reduce MS paresthesias. One study of 54 people with MS showed that a light physical exercise program helped reduce MS-induced paresthesias, along with easing other symptoms and improving their overall quality of life.
Anxiety and depression have been linked to worsening MS symptoms and can contribute to altered sensations, so don’t hesitate to seek out counseling or therapy if needed. MyMSTeam members can also provide support, reassurance, and expertise along your MS journey.
It’s important to keep your neurology provider in the loop about symptoms that are painful, uncomfortable, or disruptive to your daily life. If you have experienced altered sensations, such as feeling warmth in the head, you’re not alone. Continue to seek support from your MS community — recognizing new sensations as symptoms of MS is the first step to dealing with them.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 193,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Have you experienced sudden temperature changes with MS? How have you dealt with neurological symptoms in the past? What advice can you share with other people living with MS? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on MyMSTeam.