What Do You Know about Lhermitte's Sign in MS
Up to nearly half of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) frequently or occasionally experience a shocking experience known as Lhermitte’s sign. What is Lhermitte’s sign and what can you do about it if it occurs?
Have you ever felt an electric shock-like sensation that ran down the back of your neck and traveled to your arms, legs, and feet? Did this feeling occur when you bent your neck? Then you may have experienced Lhermitte’s sign.
This physical phenomenon, which is also known as barber chair sign, is named after Jacques Jean Lhermitte, a neuropsychiatrist and neurologist who recognized it in 1924. Lhermitte’s sign is frequently one of the first symptoms reported by individuals who are first diagnosed with MS.
Although having such shocking sensations can be frightening, the good news is that
- They typically last only a few seconds, although they can be extremely painful
- They usually are self-limiting and disappear after several weeks
- They are not life-threatening
- There are effective ways to treat them
Experts report that Lhermitte’s sign occurs in from 9 to 41 percent of patients with MS. It should be noted also that this shocking sensation is not exclusive to people with MS. People who have a severe deficiency of vitamin B12 or who have problems with their cervical spine also may experience Lhermitte’s sign.
Lhermitte’s sign occurs in MS because of the deterioration of myelin. The shock-like sensations are the result of blockage of nerve signals. These sensations are more likely to occur if you are overly tired or become overheated and need to cool down.
Treating Lhermitte’s sign
Doctors can prescribe a number of medications to help fight Lhermitte’s sign, such as anticonvulsants, steroids, antidepressants, antispastics, and sodium channel blockers. However, there are also several non-drug approaches to help relieve the pain or occurrence of Lhermitte’s sign.
- Soft neck collar or brace
- Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing and meditation
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Gentle stretching
If you are experiencing Lhermitte’s sign, discuss it with your healthcare provider. Depending on the severity and frequency of the sensations, you may want to seek some sort of treatment.
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Al-Araji AH, Oger J. Reappraisal of Lhermitte’s sign in multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis 2005; 11:398–402
Nurikko TJ et al. Multiple sclerosis-related central pain disorders. Current Pain and Headache Reports 2010 Jun; 14(3): 189-95
Solaro C et al. The prevalence of pain in multiple sclerosis: a multicenter cross-sectional study. Neurology 2004 Sep 14; 63(5): 919-21