What Is Dysesthesia?

Someone with dysesthesia may experience pain at the lightest touch, such as the weight of bed covers.
All touch feels unpleasant to someone suffering with dysesthesia.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2014
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Dysesthesia is a neurological condition characterized by a distortion of the sense of touch, which causes all touch to feel unpleasant. The root words for this condition come from the Greek words for "bad" and "sensation," reflecting the fact that for a patient with dysesthesia, sensations feel not just abnormal, but unpleasant. It sometimes occurs with paresthesia, transitory tingling and numbness which can feel abnormal and strange, but not always unpleasant.

Patients develop dysesthesia because there are lesions somewhere in the nervous system. The peripheral nerves, sensory nerves, or sensory pathways may be involved. If a patient experiences unpleasant sensation in the hand, for example, it could be a problem with the nerves in the hand, the nerves which connect the hand to the brain, or the part of the brain which processes the sensations from the hand. In all cases, the patient experiences unpleasant sensations when exposed to touch, even though these sensations are not actually happening.

Burning dysesthesia, in which the patient feels like the affected area is on fire, is one form of this condition. Patients can also feel like they are being frozen or stabbed. They may also describe sensory experiences which, while not painful, are unpleasant. Some patients, for example, say that they feel like they have something under their skin. An examination of the area will not show any signs of exposure to noxious stimuli.

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Even light touch can be painful for someone with dysesthesia. The weight of clothing or bed covers can be extremely uncomfortable, and the patient also experiences pain when people or objects brush up against the body. A friendly paw from a household pet, for instance, can cause excruciating pain because the nerve lesions confuse the signal which says "the cat is batting my leg" and translate it into a sensation of pain or discomfort.

Dysesthesia can be seen in people with diabetes, neuropathy, and multiple sclerosis, among other conditions. Treatment for this neurological issue is dependent on finding the cause. It may be possible to pinpoint the location where the sensory signals are getting scrambled. In such cases, patients may be offered options such as electrical stimulation of a nerve to stop the signals, or a neurotomy, in which the involved nerve is simply severed. Pain management medications can also be administered to dull the sensation of pain and keep the patient more comfortable.

For patients, this condition can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes it is difficult to find a doctor who will meet pain management needs because doctors may reject the idea that the patient is in pain at all. In addition, treatment often requires patient adjustment of medications and treatment options to find a method which works.

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anon348293
Post 4

@anon295135: I also had a very unsuccessful L4-:5 endoscopic discectomy. I now can no longer feel the top of my left foot, cannot raise my foot and my toes are numb and lack movement (this was billed as "non traumatic" surgery and I paid for it out of my own pocket).

My surgery was in L.A., Beverly Hills. Where was yours performed?

anon295135
Post 3

Dysesthesia: Yes, the intense burning and also very unpleasant sensations(s) are from dysesthesia. There are numerous things, like MS, Lyme Disease, diabetes and yes, surgery that can cause this neurological issue. My dysesthesia was caused from a very unsuccessful endoscopic discectomy at L4/L5 level where there was also lots of mid-line herniation.

Since the surgery over four years ago, I have had intense burning under both knee caps and a vise-like grip (sensation) grabbing my knee caps. My knees are affected because the L4 nerve (surgical site) is responsible for the knees. I also have a twisting and turning sensation of my spine.

Pain meds (opiates) and the anticonvulsant drugs like Neurontin / Lyrica can help (as can Cymbalta) with the way your brain handles this nerve pain but, do not come without side effects. I have had a very difficult time getting doctors to listen and understand what happened and to understand my specific pain. If anyone can offer any advice or help, please share it.

I used to be a very vibrant, healthy woman. No longer. My understanding of my dysesthesia is that once your nerves have surgically been tinkered with, is that basically nothing can be done.

anon267023
Post 2

Dysesthesia -- finally a name for it! I was diagnosed with MS in 1997 and the painful sensation started shortly thereafter on the palms of my hands. I am on my fourth neurologist and I’ve described nearly every symptom discussed on this page, but yet this is the first I’ve heard of it.

In the past few years, the numbness and burning sensation has moved to my wrist, toes, feet and ankles. How frustrating that the internet is smarter than my doctor.

anon181574
Post 1

I recently had a nerve ablation/destruction (sorry for any wrong spelling) done on my L1, L2, and L3 vertebrae for back pain relief. I was very excited for the surgery since I have suffered debilitating back pain for years and I am only 26.

Now, about two weeks after the surgery, I have a horrible burning from my low back through my hips and thighs. It is painful having clothes on, and sleeping is very difficult. The Dr. told me it shouldn't last more than a month, but I don't think I could stand another two weeks! Anyone have a suggestion for relief other than pain meds? Thanks.

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