Sensory disorders – causes, treatment

Sensory disturbances

Sensory disorders are expressed in the altered perception of bodily sensations, such as numbness or indefinable pain . The causes for this can be numerous and must be diagnosed very precisely so that a cure can take place.

What are sensory disorders?

Nerve endings, receptors and sensors perceive stimuli throughout the body and pass information about them on to the brain, where they are processed into sensations and impressions. Stimuli are divided into mechanical stimuli, such as pressure or vibration, sensations of temperature and pain, and sensations of movement.

If there is a sensory disorder, these stimuli are perceived as unpleasant, intensified or not present. Typical of such a disorder are tingling , burning , itching , a feeling of numbness, indefinable pain or an exaggerated perception of cold and heat, also called hyperalgesia.

It can happen that patients with sensory disorders injure themselves without noticing it, consequently do not treat the wound and become infected with serious infections . Persistent sensory disturbances must always be treated by a doctor.


The causes of a sensory disorder can range from temporary irritation of the nerves to serious diseases of the nervous system .

In particular, the following causes may exist:

diseases with this symptom

Diagnosis & History

Examination by a doctor is essential for sensory disorders due to the numerous possible causes. It must be determined whether a harmless nerve irritation or a serious illness is present. Tests of this type are carried out by a neurologist .

Sometimes numbness in individual limbs is not taken seriously, although it can be triggered by diseases such as a stroke. The diagnosis is initially made by questioning the patient. The doctor must clarify how long the patient has been suffering from the present symptoms, which triggering events could be the cause, whether other symptoms or previous illnesses are present and whether medication is taken regularly.

In addition to the questioning, a detailed physical examination, a blood test and a neurological examination are carried out. Using a sensitivity test, the doctor tests whether the pressure sensation is damaged, whether the affected person has a disturbed sensation of temperature and pain and whether the sense of movement is impaired.

A specific diagnosis must be made after the symptoms have been narrowed down by computed tomography , magnetic resonance imaging , electroneurography, electroencephalography, cerebrospinal fluid examination , X-ray , differentiated blood tests, angiographies, allergy tests and orthopedic examinations.


Depending on the sensory disorder, various physical and psychological complications are possible. In particular, if there is a complete loss of sensitivity, there is a risk that injuries or other illnesses will be overlooked because the person affected is not aware of them. The risk is increased if personal hygiene is also neglected.

For this reason, it is important to regularly visually inspect the affected body region. A good opportunity comes with daily washing. Open wounds that are not discovered in time can become infected. If the sensory disturbance is due to diabetes mellitus, wound healing disorders are also possible. This creates a high risk of infection and inflammation.

As a result, in severe cases, further medical complications such as blood poisoning , abscesses , or the death of body tissues are possible. Sensory disorders also represent a potential psychological burden. Various mental complications are possible, especially when there is an increased sensitivity to pain. The sensory disturbances often lead to diffuse mental suffering. However, specific diseases such as depression can also develop.

In some cases, sensory disturbances also lead to limitations in everyday life and at work. The changed perception often takes getting used to. Movements sometimes become unsafe if the usual feedback from the sensors is missing. This can also cause secondary motor problems. Especially with the increased sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia), people close to you (e.g. partners) must first come to terms with it, since even normal touch can cause pain.

When should you go to the doctor?

As a rule, a doctor should always be consulted if the sensory disturbances occur suddenly without any particular reason. However, the person concerned can wait a few days, since the disorders often disappear on their own. However, if these stop permanently and do not go away on their own, a visit to the doctor is necessary. A visit to a doctor is also advisable if you have increased sensitivity to pain. It may be an underlying disease that needs to be investigated in any case.

Painkillers should not be taken over a longer period of time, as they damage the stomach. If the sensory disturbances occur after an inflammation or an infection, it is also advisable to consult a doctor. As a result, consequential damage and further complications can be avoided. If, in addition to the disorders, reddening of the skin occurs, a doctor can also be consulted after a few days without improvement. In some cases, the sensory disturbances also occur after the consumption of alcohol and other drugs. In this case, the symptoms usually go away on their own after a short time. If necessary, withdrawal for the patient is necessary.

Treatment & Therapy

Depending on the cause, the treatment of a sensory disorder can vary and either address the cause or the symptoms. Diseases of the nervous system usually require drug therapy. Pinched nerves can be removed manually or through surgery.

If a stroke is present, intensive care measures must be taken immediately. An untreated stroke causes damage and can be fatal. In the case of drug-related causes, drugs may only be discontinued under the supervision of a doctor. Bacterial infections require the administration of antibiotics , alcoholism requires withdrawal and the administration of vitamin B1 at the same time . Optimizing the blood sugar level and administering alpha-lipoic acid can help diabetics.

The treatment of the causes of a sensory disorder can be supported by alleviating the symptoms. This makes sense in the area of ​​pain relief through the administration of painkillers , anticonvulsants or antidepressants . Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation supplements or replaces drug-based pain therapy .

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis for sensory disorders depends on the underlying disease. If the symptoms occur due to excessive exposure to cold or excessive strain on the body, the disorders usually disappear again without treatment. The organism must then be provided with sufficient warmth and rest. In these cases, complete recovery is possible within a few hours and a restful sleep .

If the sensory disturbances are due to circulatory problems , treatment must be initiated, otherwise the symptoms will increase. The sooner medical care is provided, the better the chances of recovery. Severe circulatory disorders can lead to a heart attack or stroke . Both are in acute danger of death.

Survivors often suffer from permanent disabilities. Paralysis , cardiac arrhythmias or limitations in certain functions are often still present many years after the incident.

The prognosis is good for sensory disturbances caused by muscle or nerve damage. Inflammation or infection can be cured by administering medication, so that the disorders disappear completely within a few weeks. A pinched nerve can be released through orthopedic techniques or surgery. The symptoms alleviate within a short time, so that they have completely disappeared after a few days. Accompanying physiotherapy is often recommended so that the person concerned remains symptom-free in the long term.


There is no general way to prevent sensory disorders. We recommend a balanced diet that provides the body with all the important vitamins and minerals , plenty of exercise, a healthy amount of relaxation and limiting stress. In the case of orthopedic diseases, long-term physiotherapy can also have a preventive effect.

You can do that yourself

The treatment of a sensory disorder can be supplemented by measures that support recovery. Extensive medical therapy is necessary in any case. In the case of impaired perception or a reduced sensitivity to pain, the sensors are stimulated by an external stimulus. Those affected can do this themselves, starting with a light stroke with a feather over the skin with a slight restriction. In the advanced stage, it is advisable to hit the affected parts of the body lightly to moderately hard with a wooden mallet. If the disorder is very advanced, electric shocks can also be used by appropriate devices. However, these are only examples of external stimulation.

Likewise, one can work with objects of different shapes or surfaces, or through massage . Massages are performed either by the person concerned or by another person. With the latter, for example, it is possible to guess which parts of the body are being touched. If other senses are affected by a disorder, there are also possibilities for stimulation. Regarding the sense of smell, ammonia or strong perfume is recommended . If the taste is limited, lemon, horseradish, hot mustard , vermouth tea or chili can help. Hearing is stimulated by loud music or other noises.

In general, the affected person can try to train their senses in everyday life, be it through an active perception of their surroundings or any activities that strongly irritate the skin, smell, taste and hearing.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.