Itchiness as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis

Itchiness is just one of many multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, but the underlying cause is different than in other cases of itchiness, which are related to inflammation of the skin.

With multiple sclerosis, itchiness is a manifestation of the demyelination of nerves that is the hallmark of the disease. Prescription medications used to treat MS can also cause or compound itchiness.

Characteristics of Itchiness in MS
Verywell / Cindy Chung


MS-related itchiness is typically paroxysmal, meaning it starts and stops abruptly. This characteristic offers an important clue that MS is the likely culprit, as opposed to the myriad other possible causes of itchiness.

Itchiness in the same location on both sides of the body is another tip-off that this symptom is likely MS-related. Neuropathic itchiness related to MS usually occurs in specific areas of your body, as opposed to feeling itchy all over.

Itchy sensations can occur virtually anywhere on your body, usually involving both sides. For example, both arms, legs, or both sides of your face might be involved. Occasionally, though, the itchiness may be confined to a single location, usually an arm or leg. 

While bouts of feeling itchy can happen six times per day or more, they usually only last a few seconds to minutes. Although they're short, these episodes can be very intense and disruptive, especially if you experience them at night.

There is no rash or bumps in the itchy area, although scratching the area can turn it red.

Some people experience a combination of abnormal sensations, such as itchiness along with a burning or tingling feeling. Additionally, you might notice your bouts of itchiness are triggered by specific circumstances.


Unlike itchiness due to a mosquito bite or eczema, which arises because of inflammation in the skin, itchy sensations caused by MS arise because of abnormal nerve signals coming from the brain. This phenomenon is called neuropathic itch.

Like most other MS symptoms, the miscommunication that causes neuropathic itch in people with MS is due to demyelination of nerves in your brain and/or spinal cord.

Loss of the protective myelin covering around your nerves causes them to misfire, which can lead to sudden itchiness and other abnormal sensations, such as tingling, burning, or a pins-and-needles feeling.

Heat is a common trigger for MS-related itchiness, and certain movements might also provoke a spell.

In addition, some disease-modifying therapies can potentially cause itchiness as a side effect, including Copaxone (glatiramera), Lemtrada (alemtuzumab), Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), and Tysabri (natalizumab).

An allergic reaction to your multiple sclerosis medication is also possible, which may cause generalized itchiness, hives, and/or a rash. If you suspect an allergic reaction, call your healthcare provider immediately.

Seek emergency medical care if you experience swelling of your lips, face, or tongue, or have difficulty breathing.


The good news is that paroxysmal symptoms like bouts of itchiness usually do not signal an MS relapse. However, this symptom can interfere with your daily activities and reduce your quality of life.

Additionally, scratching might lead to other problems, such as a skin infection or scarring. If any of these circumstances apply to you, it's important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Behavioral treatments that keep you from scratching are often helpful, as are simple measures like wearing clothes that cover the itchy areas.

If other measures don't do the trick or your symptoms are severe, your healthcare provider might recommend medications, including:

With effective medical treatment, episodes of feeling itchy usual do not recur. Keep in mind that topical treatments, including over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroids, are not helpful for neuropathic itch because the root of the problem is your nerves rather than your skin. 

Multiple Sclerosis Doctor Discussion Guide

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is unusual itching a sign of multiple sclerosis?

    Yes. Itching may be one of the first signs of MS. It can appear along with other abnormal sensations caused by nerve problems such as “pins and needles” and burning or stabbing pains.

  • Does multiple sclerosis cause a skin rash?

    Rashes are more often associated with diseases that have some similar symptoms but are unrelated to MS such as Lyme disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, and sarcoidosis. Medications used to treat MS may cause a rash.

  • What is a neuropathic itch?

    Neuropathic itch is an itchy sensation that occurs when neurons of the peripheral nervous system have been damaged. These neurons cause abnormal nerve signals that make you feel like you’re itchy although there’s no inflammation or problem with the skin.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Pain & Itching.

  2. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Other Conditions to Rule Out.

  3. Pereira MP, Wiegmann H, Agelopoulos K, Ständer S. Neuropathic itch: routes to clinical diagnosis. Front Med. 2021;8:641746. doi:10.3389/fmed.2021.641746

Additional Reading
  • Oaklander AL. Neuropathic Itch. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2011 Jun;30(2):87-92. doi: 10.1016/j.sder.2011.04.006

  • Patel T, Yosipovitch G. Therapy of Pruritus. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 201 0Jul;11(10):1673-1682. doi: 10.1517/14656566.2010.484420

By Julie Stachowiak, PhD
Julie Stachowiak, PhD, is the author of the Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, the winner of the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award, Health Category.