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Sensory Disorders: Causes & Treatment

by Josephine Andrews
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Sensory Disorders

Sensory disorders are changes in the perception of sensory stimuli. For example, the perception of temperature, pressure, or pain can be disturbed. The cause can be harmless; for example, a pinched nerve can trigger a sensory disorder. But severe damage to nerve tracts and brain and spinal cord diseases can also trigger sensory disturbances. Read here how they appear, what forms there are, and what you can do about them!

What is meant by a sensory disorder?

The skin tingles, burns, or feels furry – in the case of sensory disorders, the perception of sensory stimuli is altered. Above all, the perception of (external) stimuli via the skin is impaired in sensory disorders.

In contrast, deep sensitivity is rarely affected by sensory disturbances. This means the perception of one’s body, for example, the joints’ position, the muscles’ movement, and the situation in space.

Perception disorder of sensory stimuli can occur in a limited area of ​​the body, such as localized tingling in the face. That would speak, for example, for the disruption of a single nerve. However, it can also occur over a large area, for instance, in an entire half of the body. This can indicate damage or impairment of the central nervous system, i.e., the brain or spinal cord.

Sensory disturbances can affect different areas of perception. May be affected:

  • the sense of temperature (cold/warmth)
  • the sense of pressure, touch, and touch
  • the vibration sensation
  • the perception of pain
  • the perception of the body in space (sense of position, sense of movement)
  • the feeling of power

The perception of the sensory stimuli can be disturbed or altered in various ways. This includes:

  • quantitative disorder: a stimulus is perceived as stronger or weaker than it is
  • Qualitative sensory disturbance: the stimulus is perceived differently than usual
  • Dissociated sensory disorder: there is no perception of pain and temperature, but tactile, pressure, and touch sensations are intact
  • dissociative sensory disorder: no physical cause, possible as a result of trauma or a psychogenic disorder

The perception of sensory stimuli can be completely absent (anaesthesia), reduced (hypaesthesia) or significantly increased (hyperalgesia).

When you touch something, what do you sense? Just the way it feels, right? Well, it turns out all touch is down to the brain, not the actual contact. Our brain interprets the information it receives from our fingertips, but we don’t see the stimulus first. Instead, the brain first generates an electrical signal transmitted via the spinal cord and senses it’s either rough or soft. Once the electrical signal has been transmitted, the nerve sends the message for your hand to respond. This way, we can tell if an object is rough or soft without looking at it.

Tactile perception (surface sensitivity) is a broad term for everything we perceive through receptors on the skin. Read more about it!

Dissociated sensory disturbances

A sensory dissociation is a particular form of sensory disturbance. Dissociated sensory disorder describes when no pain or temperature is detected in a part of the body, but touch is still felt. The perception of pressure on the skin is also still intact.

This particular form is caused by damage to only a specific part of the sensitive nerve fibers in the spinal cord or brainstem, which can be caused by certain tumors, for example.

Dissociative sensory disorder

The dissociative sensory disorder has no physical cause. Doctors sometimes speak of a psychogenic abnormal sensation. The nerves are intact, and the transmitting stimuli to the central nervous system also work. Nevertheless, those affected suffer from discomfort.

It usually occurs as a side effect of a complex disorder. These possible triggers are post-traumatic stress disorder or borderline personality disorder.

Dissociative disorder is an umbrella term that refers to multiple related conditions that have in common one primary symptom: a disconnect between a person’s memories and their current behavior. The personality disconnect causes the person to experience “splitting,” or dissociation, between their personalities. In one part of the person’s mind, they may be calm, while another part is acting impulsively. One aspect of the person may feel terrified, while another part is feeling uninhibited. The disconnect between thoughts and feelings causes the person to work outside their personality, and the behaviors are often against their own will. When the person’s experiences become overwhelming, this disconnection can become severe enough to cause hospitalization.

People with dissociative disorder react to unbearable experiences by splitting off memories or whole parts of their personality. Read more!

Somatoform disorder is a term that might sound a bit scary. Still, it simply means that a person experiences symptoms that appear to be due to a physical illness but result from a psychological disorder. It’s often characterized by an individual’s psychological issues being manifested as physical complaints, like headaches, migraine, back pain, or hypertension, instead of the actual illness. Somatoform disorder is most common in people who are middle-aged to elderly, and most people with these conditions have other conditions, such as depression or anxiety. (They’re often seen as “double cases” by doctors.) Somatoform disorder is often associated with traumatic brain injury or other neurological problems, a disorder like Fibromyalgia, or even substance abuse.

The somatoform disorder refers to the occurrence of various physical complaints without an organic cause. Read more!

How are sensory disturbances manifested?

Several typical symptoms can occur if a nerve is damaged or the stimulus transmission to the central nervous system does not work correctly.

Sensations can be affected in a number of ways:

  • Numbness in the affected area of ​​the body (hypaesthesia)
  • Hypersensitivity to touch stimuli (hyperesthesia)
  • Unpleasant abnormal sensations that are not triggered by a stimulus (paresthesia)
  • Unpleasant abnormal sensation to a normal stimulus (dysesthesia)

Those affected often described these symptoms of the sensory disorder in this way:

  • Tingling (in the legs, hands, face, etc.)
  • ant race
  • itch
  • Burn
  • furry feeling
  • exaggerated reaction to heat or cold
  • indefinable pain

Discomfort, such as tingling in the hands or face, is joint. A narrowing of the nerves or the (temporary) pinching of a nerve can be responsible. The tingling usually goes away on its own after a while.

However, if there is severe damage to the nerve or the central nervous system, the symptoms can also be permanent.

You’re not alone if you’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). It is one of the most common diagnoses of hand pain and affects workers of all ages. Because CTS is often caused by repetitive motion, it can be prevented. Activities stretching your hand muscles, such as yoga, can help prevent CTS. Also, using proper work gloves can help reduce stress on the wrist. But as with any doctor visit, consult a hand specialist if your wrist pain persists. They can help diagnose whether or not you have CTS, but sometimes hand pain can be caused by other issues. A wrist X-ray, an MRI, or an ultrasound may be needed to rule out a fracture or other problems.

Tingling is a mostly unpleasant, disturbing subjective sensation that can have a variety of reasons. Read more about the causes and treatment of tingling here.

You aren’t alone if you’re suffering from nerve pain. There are over 20 million Americans who experience pain related to nerves in their body. In most cases, the pain is described as dull, throbbing, or sharp and can be localized on one or multiple areas of the body. The most common type of nerve pain is peripheral neuropathy, which affects 6.7 million Americans. Other types of nerve pain include radiculopathy, which affects the nerve roots and causes pain in the arms or legs, and trigeminal neuralgia, which causes pain in the face.

Nerve pain is severe pain that is often associated with neurological deficits. Read here how they occur and what you can do about them!

What are the causes of sensory disturbances?

There are many different causes of sensory disorders. Physicians distinguish between peripherally and centrally caused sensory disturbances.

Peripheral sensory disturbances

In the case of a peripheral sensitivity disorder, a nerve is damaged in its course. This happens, for example, if he is pinched or crushed.

In the case of burns or polyneuropathy, for example, the nerves can be so damaged that they no longer perceive stimuli or send incorrect information to the brain due to a permanently reduced blood flow.

Losses from peripheral nerve damage are limited to the area covered by the nerve. The sensitivity only in this area is limited or fails – depending on the damage. All sensations (temperature, pressure, pain, etc.) can be lost at the same time.

The following diseases and injuries can lead to peripheral sensory disturbances:

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a painful nerve condition when the median nerve becomes squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve is a nerve that runs from the base of the skull through the middle of the arm, down through the wrist, and into the palm. The median nerve controls the muscles of the thumb, index, and middle fingers, as well as the muscles in the palm. Read all about symptoms, diagnostics and causes!

Disc prolapse is a relatively common medical condition, and doctors typically prescribe non-surgical treatments like Hernia Belts to treat it. However, some patients have disc prolapse that causes them severe pain, and in this case, surgery may be the only way to relieve the pain. Knowing what to expect before, during, and after disc prolapse surgery can help you understand what to expect and can help you prepare for surgery.

A herniated disc sometimes causes pain, tingling in the legs or arms and even paralysis. Read more about the herniated disc!

Mouse arm, Also called Overuse syndrome (also referred to as repetitive strain injury), refers to pain in a muscle or tendon after repetitive motion. The condition can occur in people from all walks of life and can be brought on by an injury. Overuse syndrome often occurs in different areas of your body, including the hands and wrists, the elbows, the shoulders, the neck and back, the knees and ankles, the ankles and feet, and the elbows and wrists. The condition usually resolves itself over time, although sometimes it can take considerable time to heal.

A mouse arm stands for a diverse range of symptoms and affects the upper half of the body. Find out more about symptoms and therapy here!
In the case of burns, the skin is damaged by heat. Treatment depends on the severity. Read more here!

Central sensory disturbances

A central sensory disorder is caused by brain or spinal cord damage. The transmission of the stimulus, the so-called afferent from the nerve cells in the spinal cord, brainstem, or thalamus, does not work correctly. The nerve, therefore, perceives the stimulus. But the information does not reach the stimulus-processing part of the brain due to the disrupted transmission.

The following diseases can lead to central sensory disturbances:

Strokes are one of the most common emergencies in the U.S., killing 140,000 Americans yearly. Every year, 830,000 Americans have a transient ischemic attack, a temporary blockage of the blood supply to the brain. Both conditions are caused by an interruption of blood flow caused by a blood clot or other blockage. Fortunately, strokes and TIAs can be treated if caught early.

Read here how this happens and what the signs are!

Back injuries can range from mild to severe, depending on how much of the spinal column is damaged. However, no matter what the cause, back pain can be debilitating. It can keep you homebound, and it can prevent you from working. The good news is there are things you can do to help lessen or even prevent back pain.

The motto here is not to move – but only if the patient is not unconscious. Read more about first aid for spinal injuries!

The brain is the most critical organ in the human body. It controls our most basic functions, like breathing and heartbeat, to our more complex skills like language and thought. But our brains are also incredibly susceptible to disease and injury. Neurological disorders are among the most common causes of death and disability worldwide. From Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s, neurological diseases affect millions of people and exact a heavy toll on society.

Neurological diseases affect the brain and nervous system. Which conditions are included? How do you recognize them? Read more!

Localization of the discomfort

The place where the sensory disturbance occurs can indicate the underlying cause:

  • Hemisensory disturbances: The cause is usually damage to the brain or spinal cord
  • Bilateral sensory disturbances (symmetric): Causes are usually spinal cord damage or tumors; it is often a dissociated sensory disorder
  • Localized sensory disturbances (one-sided, asymmetrical): damage and injuries to individual nerves

Are sensory disorders dangerous?

Depending on the cause and severity of the sensory disorder, various physical and psychological complications are possible. Permanent abnormal sensations or painful irritations caused by sensory disturbance are often very stressful. Those affected often withdraw and avoid physical contact when it hurts to be touched. This can harm mental health.

In the event of an extensive or complete loss of sensitivity, the risk of injuries or other illnesses will not be noticed because the person affected is unaware of them. Protective reflexes are then often absent. Undetected injuries can become infected and inflamed, becoming a severe health hazard.

The risk of injury increases with a permanent sensory disorder. Because if you don’t feel any heat on your skin, you won’t notice your fingers burning on the saucepan. Those affected must be particularly careful and keep an eye on possible dangers. Incidentally, this also applies to common household remedies such as a hot water bottle or an excellent pack.

Keep in mind that home remedies have their limits. If your symptoms persist over a long period, do not get better, or even worsen, you should always consult a doctor.

With neglect, those affected no longer correctly perceive one side of their body and surroundings but do not notice it themselves. Read more!

Polyneuropathy, also known as neuropathy, is a condition that causes loss of nerve function. The nerves can become damaged for various reasons, such as overuse, exposure to toxins or chemicals, or chronic disease. While these causes aren’t crucial in diagnosing neuropathy, they can play a role in determining the severity and treatment.

In polyneuropathy, peripheral nerves are damaged, for example in the feet and hands. The cause is usually diabetes or alcohol. Read more!

Diagnosis of sensory disorders

If you suspect you are suffering from sensory disorders, go to your family doctor first. He can assess whether the cause is harmless. If necessary, he will refer you to a neurologist.

Questioning the patient (anamnesis)

At the beginning of the diagnosis, there is a doctor-patient conversation ( anamnesis ). The doctor collects essential information about the sensory disorder’s cause, severity, and localization.

For example, the doctor asks:

  • When did you first notice the symptoms?
  • In what situation?
  • Did you have an accident, or were you injured before the symptoms started?
  • Where do you feel the discomfort?
  • How would you describe the sensations?
  • Are there other symptoms (such as ParalysisSpeech disorders)?
  • Do you suffer from other diseases such as Diabetes?
  • Do you take any medicine?

Physical examination

After the anamnesis, the physical examination follows. The neurologist uses various tests to check the patient’s sensitivity. The neurological examination includes checking pain and temperature perception and pressure and touch sensitivity.

The doctor tickles the patient with a piece of cotton wool or cellulose and checks whether the affected person perceives the external stimulus. He pricks the patient with a pointed object and, in this way, matches his pain sensitivity.

One method for diagnosing sensory disorders is the so-called monofilament test. The doctor presses a unique and relatively stiff plastic thread onto the skin. With a defined pressure, the thread buckles – the patient should feel a prick on the skin. If the pain sensitivity is reduced, the affected person does not feel the buckling of the thread.

In some cases, a blood analysis in the laboratory is functional. An orthopedic assessment, for example, a herniated disc, or an allergy test can also be necessary to diagnose sensory disorders.

A neurological examination is a test used to assess your brain’s overall function. Your brain controls many vital functions in your body, and any dysfunction will affect your ability to function. A neurological examination will test the overall functioning of your brain but will not pinpoint the cause of the dysfunction.

With the help of a neurological examination, the doctor checks the function and performance of the brain and nervous system. Read all about it!

Imaging and laboratory diagnostic methods

If there is a suspicion of nerve damage or brain or spinal cord damage, the neurologist will use imaging techniques. Possible damage to the peripheral and central nervous system often becomes visible.

Depending on the suspected diagnosis, the following are used:

Angiography is a specialized medical test involving a contrast agent’s injection into a blood vessel. (Think of it as an X-ray of the blood vessels). The test is used to diagnose heart disease, stroke, and other conditions that affect blood flow through the blood vessels. The gold standard for diagnosing heart disease is the electrocardiogram (ECG), a diagnostic test that records the heart’s electrical activity. But angiography is a much better test used in 90% of coronary angiography procedures. Read all about it!

A lumbar puncture is a minor procedure that involves inserting a needle into the lower back to remove the spinal fluid. The process is most often used to treat patients with multiple sclerosis symptoms or diagnose the condition. The procedure may also be done for other conditions, such as headaches, infection, and other conditions that cause spinal fluid to build up. During a lumbar puncture, a needle is inserted into the lower back to remove a small amount of spinal fluid. The liquid is then analyzed under a microscope, and X-ray or CT imaging may be performed to evaluate the spine’s condition. Read all about it!

When do you have to go to the doctor with sensory disorders?

Initially, discomfort is not a reason to panic. If a nerve is pinched, this can briefly lead to an unpleasant tingling sensation or something similar. However, if the sensory disturbance persists for a more extended period or the limitations are particularly severe, you should speak to a doctor.

⚠️Warning:

If you suddenly notice severe sensory disturbances and at the same time symptoms of paralysis, disturbances of consciousness or severe headaches, call the emergency doctor. A stroke can be the cause of the symptoms. 

This is how sensory disorders are treated

How the therapy of a sensory disorder looks like is very different. Treatment always depends on the cause. 

If the affected nerve is pinched, as in carpal tunnel syndrome, the symptoms often go away on their own. If not, physical therapy can help free the nerve again. The doctor will also prescribe physiotherapy if the nerves are affected by a herniated disc. 

However, if a disease is responsible for sensory disturbances, it must be treated. Some medications reduce the sensory disorder. Patients with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s receive these funds, for example.

In some cases, surgery is necessary to correct the sensory disturbance. An example is an abscess or tumor in the brain or spinal cord. If it is surgically removed, the pressure on the surrounding tissue and, accordingly, on the nerves decreases. You will be relieved, and the sensory disturbances will disappear.

In some cases, the discomfort occurs after taking certain medications. In this case, talk to your doctor. They can prescribe you a different preparation or adjust the dose if necessary.

⚠️Warning:

Never stop taking a medication without consulting your doctor. You should never adjust the dose yourself. 

Physical therapy is an effective treatment that restores function and mobility following an injury, surgery, or disabling condition. Physical therapists use hands-on techniques to treat pain, restore function, increase mobility, and prevent disability. Therapists also help patients learn techniques and exercises to do at home. Read all about it!

Scientific Standards:

This text corresponds to the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines, and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.

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