The MS Hug: What Is It and How to Cope With It

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For the more than two million people around the world who have multiple sclerosis, or MS, life is unpredictable.

This is because researchers still have much to learn about this condition. Common symptoms like the MS hug can be debilitating and detract from enjoying a full life.

Learning more about MS and major symptoms like the MS hug can help victims of this disease to feel that they are in control.

What Is MS? 

Scientists don’t know what causes MS. However, they do know that it affects the central nervous system, which consists of the spinal cord and brain in addition to the optic nerves.

Doctors suspect that the condition causes the immune system to attack healthy central nervous system tissue.

It is myelin, a substance that covers and protects the nerves, that is the primary target of MS. Damage to the myelin causes many MS symptoms.

The nerves themselves also may become damaged, leading to neuropathic pain.

The symptoms of MS are varied and may include slurred speech, poor balance, and coordination, blurry vision, extreme fatigue, concentration and memory difficulties, numbness, tremors, and paralysis. The MS hug is a symptom of the neuropathic pain that can be caused by the disease.

MS is a chronic condition that may worsen with age. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, though diagnoses may happen earlier and later.

Women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed than men. Scientists suspect that there may be genetic risk factors, but no direct link has been identified.

What is MS Hug? 

For people newly diagnosed with MS, the MS hug can be a startling and worrisome condition.

Doctors sometimes refer to it as girdling or banding because many patients report feeling a tight, uncomfortable sensation in the chest.

In fact, the symptoms may be felt as low as the waist and as high as the neck. The feeling sometimes may be so tight that breathing is painful and difficult.

Most patients feel the signs of the MS hug in the torso. However, some patients feel the sensations elsewhere.

Patients have described a feeling as if they are constantly wearing gloves on their hands or boots on their feet.

These sensations may be mildly irritating or distractingly painful.

Other patients will experience the MS hug around their head. Once again, the severity of the symptoms ranges from mild to severe with feelings of tightness, pressure, and pain is common.

How Many People Get MS Hug? 

No formal study has yet indicated how many people with MS experience the MS hug.

However, it’s a common symptom though its signs and signals vary among patients.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that approximately 55 percent of MS patients deal with “clinically significant pain” intermittently. This pain may be caused by the MS hug or other MS-related symptoms.

What Causes an MS hug? 

The MS hug is a common symptom because it arises from interrupted or incomplete messages from damaged nerves.

Small muscles between the ribs that are called the intercostal muscles may go into spasms, making it difficult to breathe.

Normally, the intercostal muscles hold the ribs in place while allowing enough flexibility for common movements. They also support healthy breathing.

There are three layers of intercostal muscles, each layer with a different role to play in healthy respiration.

They lie between the ribs, expanding and contracting as you breathe. However, their ability to perform these helpful functions may be impaired by MS.

Disrupted signals between the brain and the central nervous system may cause the involuntary contraction of these muscles.

The result is feelings of tightness. Sometimes, the pain is felt around the entire torso. Other times, it’s only on one side or in a more isolated spot.

MS Hug: What It Feels Like 

Many people who have this disease experience the MS hug. However, the sensations that they experience widely vary.

Some people have dull pain while others describe it as sharp. One patient may detail a stabbing pain, but another says it’s more of a constant ache.

Other sensations may include a feeling of pins and needles or crawling across the skin. Some people complain of a burning sensation.

Certain patients may describe the symptoms as a sudden attack. However, others may say that the symptoms built slowly.

Frequently, the MS hug is accompanied by pain in the chest. Unless you’ve already had a doctor diagnose your symptoms, it may be critical to seek medical attention.

Your symptoms may be the result of a heart condition or other, previously undiagnosed respiratory illness.

Your doctor may refer to the painful sensations that are associated with the MS hug as dysesthesias.

Translated from the Greek, this word essentially means “abnormal sensation.” For many MS sufferers who experience the MS hug, this is an apt description.

Can MS Hug Cause Shortness of Breath? 

The MS hug can create the sensation of being short of breath. For some patients, it’s the pain and the feeling of being restricted that makes it difficult to draw a deep breath. For others, it is a result of muscle weakness or tightness.

People who have MS tend to be unable to fully exhale. Additionally, they cannot cough efficiently enough to clear mucus secretions or food from their airway.

Gasping for breath, or the feeling of shortness of breath may happen at any time for someone with MS because lung function is impaired.

Shortness of breath may occur by itself or as another side effect of the MS hug. In patients who have spinal lesions that are caused by MS, the ability to move air through the lungs may be severely impaired. In fact, such a lesion may be responsible for the sensation of the MS hug.

Although the lesions and the symptoms they cause may lead sufferers to believe that they are short of breath, it’s not unusual for a blood oxygen test to show normal levels.

This is an example of how MS disrupts clear communication between the brain and the central nervous system.

What Can I Do If I Have MS Hug? 

For many, the MS hug may loosen its grip after just a few moments. For others, the symptoms may persist for hours or even days.

Medical attention is not absolutely required when the symptoms of MS hug arise.

However, if you haven’t had them before or if they are acute, then seeking a doctor’s advice is recommended.

Most people who experience MS hug symptoms are able to treat the condition at home.

They learn to recognize the early onset of the symptoms so that they immediately take steps to alleviate the condition.

These symptoms may include feelings of burning, dull and achy pains and pressure anywhere between the neck and the waistline.

Other symptoms like tingling, tickling, tightness or difficulty breathing also may be early warning signs.

If you’ve never experienced these symptoms before, then a call to your neurologist is imperative.

They may order an MRI to rule out other medical conditions that have similar symptoms.

If you know the telltale signs of the MS hug, then you may not need medical intervention unless the condition persists or becomes acute. Instead, you can deal with your symptoms at home.

Some patients experience relief by practicing meditation and deep breathing exercises. Slow, deep breathing improves blood flow and relaxes tightened muscles.

The techniques are simple and when practiced regularly can be extremely effective in the midst of an attack.

Other patients use a heating pad with some success. It’s important not to turn the heat up too high.

A soothing warmth that encourages calm is best. Similarly, a warm bath can be the ideal antidote.

Massage therapy can bring about relief for people experiencing the symptoms of MS hug.

Self-massage can be effective, but having someone else massage the affected areas may be even more efficient.

Some patients find that wearing tight clothing actually alleviates their symptoms.

Typically, this is because the tight clothing provides a reasonable, identifiable cause for feelings of constriction.

The symptoms begin to diminish when the individual feels the clothing hugging their body.

If a patient has been prescribed certain drugs by their doctor in the event of an MS hug, then they should following the dosing recommendations without delay.

Not every coping strategy for the MS hug works for everyone who experiences the symptoms.

Some trial and error typically are required to discover which techniques work for specific individuals.

In general, starting home treatment as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms helps to manage the severity of the attack.

How Is MS Hug Treated? 

If you find that your MS hug symptoms are difficult to deal with or are happening too frequently, then your doctor may suggest various treatments. One of these is drug therapy.

Medications for MS hug vary depending upon what the doctor believes is causing the condition.

If he believes that the symptoms are a sign of an MS relapse, then steroids may be prescribed. Common steroids include prednisone, corticotropin, and methylprednisone.

Other prescription medications may treat specific symptoms of the MS hug. For instance, a muscle relaxer such as baclofen may help to relieve tightness.

Anti-depressant drugs like duloxetine and amitriptyline may be effective for the treatment of nerve pain.

Doctors also may prescribe drugs that are anticonvulsives such as pregabalin and gabapentin.

Sometimes, over-the-counter treatments may prove helpful. A simple dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen may do the trick.

Alternatively, some patients experience an alleviation of symptoms with a pain relief cream.

MS Hug Triggers 

In general, MS hug attacks are not random. They usually are a response to a certain trigger or stimuli.

When people with MS allow themselves to become overly tired, stressed or anxious, an attack is far more likely to occur.

Additionally, then the immune system is under attack, the MS hug symptoms may not be far behind.

If you’re dealing with the flu, the common cold or even a bladder infection, you are much more likely to experience the MS hug.

Even changes in temperature can bring on an attack. For many people, being too hot is enough to give rise to the symptoms of MS hug.

How to Manage the MS Hug 

In your quest to find out what helps with the MS hug, you’ll likely encounter several management techniques.

Although having so many choices can seem overwhelming, this is a positive thing, as not every management technique works for every person.

Certain lifestyle adjustments can go a long way toward managing MS hug. Many people experience an improvement in their symptoms simply by increasing how much water they drink every day.

Being hydrated at all times, coupled with a healthy diet, may mean that the MS hug virtually becomes a thing of the past.

In fact, diet can play a vital role in how well you cope with MS overall. Once again, diet affects everyone with MS differently, so some trial and error may be required before you find healthy habits that work for you.

Just keep in mind that overeating can bring on an MS hug, so always dine with a bit of caution.

Other lifestyle adjustments include avoiding anxiety. Life is stressful, so a bit of anxiety is inevitable.

However, anyone can change the way that they cope with stress. Deep breathing techniques, meditation, and yoga are some incredibly positive lifestyle changes that anyone can adopt.

With regular practice, they can revolutionize your relationship with anxiety, which means that anxious thoughts and feelings are less likely to result in an MS hug.

Journaling is another excellent resource that helps to manage stress. The physical act of writing out problems and worries may help you release them.

Add good sleep habits into the mix, and you’ll be well on your way to experiencing fewer MS hug attacks.

By understanding what this condition is and working closely with your doctor, you can lead a more meaningful life with MS.