Suddenly you feel an intense tightening around your chest, along with pain and a burning sensation. You clutch your chest, awash in fear.
But if you have multiple sclerosis and been through this before, you'll recognize this as the mysterious MS Hug... the Chest Hug... the Girdle... otherwise known as dysesthesias. According to the Encyclopedia of Neurological Disorders*, dysesthesias is defined as:
Dysesthesias is a symptom of pain or abnormal sensation(s) that typically cause hyperesthesia, paresthesiae, or peripheral sensory neuropathy. Dysesthesias can be due to lesions (an abnormal change) in sensory nerves and sensory pathways in the central nervous system (CNS, consisting of the brain and the spinal cord). The pain or abnormal sensations in dysesthesias is often described as painful feelings of tingling, burning, or numbness.
Although it is an extremely unpleasant neurological event, it is not life-threatening.
As with most symptoms of MS, the MS Hug feels differently to individual patients. Sometimes described as feeling like being squeezed by a boa constrictor, compressed with an ever-tightening rubber band, or wearing a chest high girdle, the MS Hug actually does not interfere with the ability to breathe.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS Hug pain and discomfort are "often treated with the anticonvulsant medication gabapentin (Neurontin ®). Dysesthesias may also be treated with an antidepressant such as amitriptyline (Elavil ®), which modifies how the central nervous system reacts to pain. Other treatments include wearing a pressure stocking or glove, which can convert the sensation of pain to one of pressure; warm compresses to the skin, which may convert the sensation of pain to one of warmth; and over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol ® and others) which may be taken daily, under a physician's supervision."
As always, the best source of information for new and unusual symptoms is your personal physician.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Mar 24, 2009 "Chest hug" is not life-threatening
About.com, Oct 12, 2008 by Julie Stachowiak, Ph.D., Tips for Managing the "MS Hug
About.com, Jan 24, 2009 by Julie Stachowiak, Ph.D., "Hug" or Girdle-Band Sensation
The Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre, Multiple Sclerosis Hug or Girdle
*"Dysesthesias." Encyclopedia of Neurological Disorders. Ed. Stacey L. Chamberlin and Brigham Narins. Gale Cengage, 2005. eNotes.com. 2006. 14 Apr, 2009 http://www.enotes.com/neurological-disorders-encyclopedia/dysesthesias