Dysesthesia (pronounced dis-uhs-thee-zhuh; plural, dysesthesias) is the name given the altered, unpleasant and possibly painful sensations that multiple sclerosis patients can experience, frequently described as a burning and aching feeling or, if affecting the trunk, a “girdling” sensation across the body (popularly known as the “MS hug”).

Dysesthesia derives from the Greek word, “dys” meaning “not normal,” and “aesthesis” meaning sensation.

These sensations have a neurologic origin, and can affect any part of the body, including the genitals, but are most common in the face, arms or legs, and trunk.

Cause of dysesthesia and its treatment

These sensations are due to the damage caused to the nerves in the brain and spinal cord by MS. The normal transmission of messages to and from the brain is impaired by MS, making it difficult for the brain to interpret the signals it is receiving. So it responds with a sensation, or mix of sensations, already known to the body, which can range from tingling, itching or burning, to stabbing pains or an electric shock.

It’s important to know that such sensations are not a sign of damage to the tissues where they are being felt; rather, the damage is in the nerves that communicate with the brain about what’s happening in a particular part of your body.

Treatment for dysesthesias include anticonvulsants such as gabapentin and antidepressants such as amitriptyline. Both modify how the central nervous system reacts to pain.

Non-pharmacological treatments can include wearing a pressurized stocking or glove, to convert a feeling of pain to one of pressure; applying warm compresses to the skin where the sensation is being felt, as this may convert feelings of pain to those of warmth; and non-strenuous exercises like walking, stretching, yoga or gentle swimming (or those recommended by a physiotherapist). Adequate sleep and meditation can also help, and some evidence exists that acupuncture may also help ease MS pain.

 

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