Thursday, 3 June 2010

stuck in my throat....

Multiple Sclerosis really is the gift that keeps on giving.

I woke up last Monday with a lump in my throat.  I noticed it when I took a sip from my cup of coffee and it felt as though the hot liquid was working its way around an obstruction lodged just above my chest.  It was a bit awkward, but it wasn't the end of the world and I just shrugged it off.  I noticed it a few times over the next couple of days, but it wasn't until the weekend that it began to worry me.  As time went on, the feeling of having something stuck began to change into a feeling of something pushing out from behind my breastbone.  It not only made eating and drinking uncomfortable, but now I was in some discomfort most of the time.

Naturally, at this point, I did a spot of Googling.  I'm just back from Africa, but I never for a moment thought that I had some kind of obscure tropical disease.  Nor did I really consider it likely that I actually had something stuck in my chest.  It must be something else.  MS is an unpredictable condition with a whole spectrum of different symptoms that can affect all different parts of the mind and body.  Ever since my diagnosis, there's always been the worry that every new thing I experience is the first signs of a new symptom I'll have to learn to live with.

Google almost immediately threw up dysphagia, a condition apparently experienced by some 30 to 40 percent of MS sufferers at some point.  Great.  Never one to trust a Google diagnosis, I took myself off to the doctor.  During the course of his investigation, the doctor asked me what I thought was quite an interesting question: he asked me what I was afraid it might be.  I suppose this is a good way of drawing out of the patient what's really on their mind.  If I had been worried about some weird tropical disease, then the doctor would quickly have been able to put my mind at ease.  As it was, I thought for a moment and then told him that I was worried that it was a new symptom of my MS.  I imagine that if something actually was stuck in my throat, or if I was experiencing some kind of acid reflux, then these things would clear up in time.  My experience of MS so far is that symptoms turn up and then never entirely go away.  Who would want that?

The doctor told me that he thought I was probably experiencing a transient problem with the muscles in my esophagus, but as the junior doctor in the practice, he said he would double-check with a senior partner and get back to me.  A few hours later, he rang me back (junior doctors are good like that) and said that he thought the cause was likely to be neurological and that I should contact the MS nurses and take it from there.

Great.  A new symptom.  On reflection, I think it's my least favourite symptom so far.

I do not want to have to live my life with a lump behind my breastbone that makes it uncomfortable to eat.....but then again, neither do I want to live my life with a loss of strength across my arms and shoulders or a widespread loss of sensation across my body, but I seem to be managing okay with that.  And as I keep reminding myself, I'm still considerably better off than many and should probably count my blessings, particularly as the sensation in my chest seems to be calming down a little.

I'm not sure if I've always been a stoic, or if circumstance have made me one..... although frankly, what other choice do I have?

1 comment:

  1. I've had the same - or at least, a very similar - swallowing problem for about ten years. I've ended up in casualty a couple of times on occasions when it was severe. Mostly it lasts about 10-15 minutes, but the worst one I ever had lasted two days (and I was abroad on a business trip, just to make it that much more enjoyable).

    My diagnosis has been acid reflux. All kinds of tests have failed to find any kind of conclusive cause, apart from a slight hiatus hernia. I'm still not entirely convinced - I definitely used to get heartburn, but I don't any more, yet the symptoms persist.

    I know how to control it now, the likely triggers and not to panic when it actually happens. Biggest change was losing weight - it used to happen two or three times a week, but since I lost a couple of stone it's more like a once-a-month experience.

    I know that it happens more frequently when I'm stressed. Whether cause or symptom, I'm never sure. Is it a physical form of anxiety? Or do I just eat too quickly and/or don't chew my food well enough when I'm hyper?

    It happens when I don't eat regularly. Last night was a case in point... lunch at midday, dinner at 8pm... BANG. Two mouthfuls and I'm drooling and gagging. I have to make a point of regular snacking. Also, alcohol on an empty stomach followed by food is also frequently a trigger. Also certain types of food always seem to do it... rice, penne pasta and carrots.

    So, sympathies. I wish I could tell you that this will go away, but obviously I have no clue. But if my own experience is anything to go by, see if you can work out the patterns and triggers, it might be more controllable than you initially realise.