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Numbness and Vertigo
August 2000

Q. One week ago, I began experiencing some numbness in my left foot and lower leg, even after taking anti-inflammatory pills. During this time, I also had numbness in my right arm and the right side of my face. For the last month, I have frequently gone through vertigo. I can't look at roller coasters or ferris wheels. I've even been noticing it when I am a passenger in a car, but not while driving. I know that these can be symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. Any other possibilities?

A. There is no way I can promise you that you don't have Multiple Sclerosis (MS), but that isn't at the top of my list right now. MS is often a horrible disease, though recently new treatments are becoming available. Still, let's hope you don't have it. While it is common for us in medicine to try to diagnose all of a patients symptoms with just one disease (such as saying your leg numbness and vertigo are caused by MS), I don't think this is the case with you.

Transient numbness of a limb is not that uncommon. It can be caused by a lot of things, including MS, but the key is that in MS the symptoms leave, then recur. Your face numbness hasn't returned, and the leg numbness seems to have stayed. A chronic numbness is more likely a problem with the peripheral nerves (somewhere from the spine to the leg). Anti-inflammatory medication can help, but usually only if taken at high (prescription-strength) doses for over 10 days.

Most likely your vertigo is related to neither MS nor the numbness. Vertigo is far more likely to be caused by an inner ear problem than by MS. There are treatments (such as a maneuver where the doctor tilts your head in a special way) and medications (related to sea-sickness pills) that can be used.

You can learn more about MS and peripheral neuropathy at the following sites:

  • National MS Society Web site - http://www.nmss.org

  • Peripheral neuropathy is briefly described for the medical professional at http://www.vh.org/Providers/ClinRef/FPHandbook/Chapter14/10-14.html

  • The Harvard School of Medicine has an (unmoderated!!) web site dedicated to peripheral neuropathy -
    http://neuro-www.mgh.harvard.edu/forum/PeripheralNeuropathyMenu.html

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