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What Is the Difference Between Paresthesia and Dysesthesia?

Reviewed on 9/8/2020

What Are Paresthesia and Dysesthesia?

Both paresthesia and dysesthesia describe abnormal nerve sensations. 

Paresthesia describes abnormal burning or prickling sensations that are usually felt in the arms, hands, legs, or feet, but may also occur in other parts of the body. The sensation is usually painless and may be described as tingling, numbness, skin crawling, or itching. 

A temporary paresthesia is common and often described as “pins and needles,” such as when a person falls asleep on their arm or sits too long with legs crossed. Chronic paresthesia can be a symptom of an underlying neurological disease or traumatic nerve damage.

Dysesthesias are types of chronic nerve disorder that can also affect the arms, hands, legs, or feet, and feel like prickling, burning, stabbing, ice cold, or electrical sensations. Dysesthesias can interfere with daily activities, sleep, and quality of life.

What Are Symptoms of Paresthesia and Dysesthesia?

Symptoms of paresthesia and dysesthesia are both usually felt in the arms, hands, legs, or feet. 

The main difference between the sensations of paresthesia and dysesthesia is the severity. 

Paresthesia is usually painless, may be temporary such as “pins and needles” or chronic, and sensations may be described as:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Skin crawling
  • Itching

Dysesthesia is chronic and often painful, and sensations can interfere with daily activities, sleep, and quality of life. Dysesthesia may be described as:

  • Prickling
  • Burning
  • Stabbing
  • Ice cold
  • Electrical sensations
  • Pain with only light touch
  • Cold feels hot or hot feels cold 

What Causes Paresthesia and Dysesthesia?

Temporary paresthesia is common and may be referred to as "pins and needles." This is caused by pressure placed on a nerve, such as when a person falls asleep on their arm or sits too long with legs crossed. When the pressure is relieved, the sensation goes away. 

Chronic paresthesia can be a symptom of an underlying neurological disease or traumatic nerve damage such as:

Dysesthesia is caused by nerve damage. Conditions that cause nerve damage and dysesthesia include:

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How Are Paresthesia and Dysesthesia Diagnosed?

Paresthesia and dysesthesia are diagnosed based on the patient’s medical history and a physical examination, and after dermatological (skin) disease has been ruled out.

Blood tests to diagnose causes of paresthesia and dysesthesia may include

Other tests to diagnose causes of paresthesia and dysesthesia may include

What Is the Treatment for Paresthesia and Dysesthesia?

Treatment for paresthesia and dysesthesia depends on the cause, where on the body the sensations are located, and the severity of symptoms.

Medications to treat paresthesia and dysesthesia may include:

Other treatments for paresthesia and dysesthesia may include:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Physical barriers to reduce scratching and rubbing, such as gloves, night-time thermoplastic facemask, and night-time arm splinting
  • Transcutaneous electrical muscle stimulation (TENS)
  • Narrow-band ultraviolet radiation
  • Botulinum-A injections 
  • Intralesional steroid injections 

What Are Complications of Paresthesia and Dysesthesia?

A complication of dysesthesia is decreased quality of life, impact on daily activities and sleep, and impact on mood and mental health.

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Reviewed on 9/8/2020
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