Columnist Tamara Sellman looks at erythromelalgia, a condition that affects the feet and hands and is characterized by a burning sensation.
You might be sitting on the couch watching TV. Or you could be sleeping. Maybe you’re working at your desk (like I am right now). Suddenly, it feels as if your feet have caught fire and your toes are alight.
Perhaps it’s your fingers that feel like they are shooting flames from their tips. No, this isn’t a sign that you have a hidden superpower — rather it suggests that as a person with multiple sclerosis (MS), you are experiencing something that is known clinically as erythromelalgia.
Erythromelalgia: The basics
Burning sensations generally belong to the broad spectrum of symptom clusters referred to as “pain syndromes.” Pain takes on a variety of sensations, especially in those with a neurological condition such as MS. It can be felt as throbbing, stabbing, cramping, itching, aching, tingling, or burning.
Erythromelalgia falls into the last category affecting the feet or hands, which is clinically described as peripheral pain. In rare cases, it may spread to upper or lower limbs, or even to the face.
The skin may look reddish and feel hot to the touch. However, the condition doesn’t occur as a result of direct exposure to heat, but rather is due to the dysfunction of the peripheral nervous system.
The peripheral connection
The peripheral nervous system comprises the nerves that serve the extremities and include motor nerves (muscle control), sensory nerves (sensations), and autonomic system nerves (involuntary processes like core body temperature and blood pressure).
Erythromelalgia is an example of peripheral neuropathy, where mixed signals from the brain — due to demyelination activity and MS lesions — can result in chronic unpleasant sensations akin to someone holding a match to your hands or feet.
This intense burning nerve pain can happen in brief episodes or linger continuously; it may be mild and gradual or acute and severe.
|Read on: Need to Know: Why Are My Feet Burning?|