The MS hug is a multiple sclerosis symptom that feels like there is a tight band around the chest or torso. It is also known as banding or girdling.
Like many MS symptoms, the MS hug feels different from person to person. Various people have described it as a feeling of pressure, an ache, a tickle, a pain, or a burning sensation. And they have said that the discomfort it generates ranges from “annoying to very painful.” The hug usually lasts a few seconds, but it can persist.
Some people with MS feel it in the hands or feet, others around the head.
What causes the MS hug?
The technical name for the MS hug is dysesthesia. It results from the damage that MS causes to the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. MS impairs the normal transmission of messages to and from the brain, making it difficult for the brain to interpret the signals it receives. In those situations, the brain can respond with a sensation, or mix of sensations, that include tingling, itching, burning, stabbing pains, or an electric shock-like feeling.
It’s important to know that these sensations are not a sign of damage to the areas where they are felt. Rather, the damage is in the nerves that communicate to the brain what’s happening in another part of the body. Pain in the chest can be an exception to this general rule, however. A doctor needs to examine it to make sure it’s not a heart problem — unless it has already been diagnosed as MS hug.
Is there a treatment for the MS hug?
The MS hug often doesn’t need treated. If it persists or is very painful, anticonvulsants such as gabapentin or pregabalin and antidepressants such as amitriptyline can help. Both types of therapies modify how the central nervous system reacts to pain.
Some people try to manage MS hug symptoms themselves. One way is to choose clothes they believe will help them do the best job of coping with the symptoms. Some prefer tight clothing, others loose, lightweight garb. The choice depends on which kinds of clothes they feel most comfortable in. The presumption is that comfortable clothes help them cope when MS hug strikes.
Other ways to manage MS hug include non-pharmacological treatments such as exercise — walking, stretching, yoga, gentle swimming or other activities recommended by a physiotherapist. Adequate sleep and meditation can help, and there is evidence that acupuncture can ease MS pain.
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