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The MS Hug

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022 | Last updated: March 2022

In multiple sclerosis (MS), the body mistakenly attacks its healthy nerve cells. This can lead to a variety of neurological symptoms. Some of these include:1,2

  • Pain
  • Tingling
  • A burning sensation across different areas of the body

These abnormal sensations are called paresthesias if they occur at rest or dysesthesias if they occur with sensory stimulation. One type of paresthesia is the MS hug.1,2

What is the MS hug?

The MS hug is an uncomfortable sensation around the chest and abdomen. It is a type of neurological pain.1-3

People who experience the MS hug describe it as a gripping pain similar to a tight hug. The MS hug may feel like a blood pressure cuff squeezing around the rib cage. This can cause painful breathing and problems completing regular activities. The MS hug may also include burning or tickling sensations, or aching pain. The severity and length of discomfort can vary from person to person.1-3

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The MS hug is sometimes called the "Anaconda sign," like a snake constricting around the abdomen. It may also be the first sign of a relapse.1,2

Why does the MS hug occur?

The MS hug, like other MS-related neurological symptoms, comes from damage to an area of the spinal cord that sends nerves to the abdomen and chest. The body mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath of nerves in this area. This interferes with the way nerves talk to one another and can cause abnormal sensations or discomfort in the chest and abdomen.1-3

Tightness, like in the MS hug, burning, numbness, and tingling can all be signs of nerve damage. These sensations are called neuropathic pain (nerve-related pain). The MS hug may also be related to stiffness (spasticity) of the muscles in the rib cage or abdomen. This is a result of nerve damage, too.1-3

Managing the MS hug

Several health issues can cause chest tightness or discomfort. While the MS hug may not be life-threatening, other causes of chest pain are. These include things like serious lung infections or heart attacks. New or worsening chest discomfort should always be addressed by a doctor.3

While signs of a heart attack can vary from person to person, common signs include:4

  • Chest pain that lasts for multiple minutes
  • Chest fullness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Discomfort in the jaw, back, arms, or neck
  • Shortness of breath

If you have any of these symptoms, go to the emergency room right away.

Once it has been determined that chest discomfort is related to MS, there are several common treatment options. These include:2,3

  • Wearing loose clothing
  • Avoiding triggers like high temperatures or humidity
  • Treating an underlying relapse, if present
  • Taking drugs that treat neuropathic pain, such as gabapentin
  • Taking drugs that treat muscle spasms, such as baclofen