Some people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience the MS hug, a painful and/or restrictive sensation that often is centered around the chest or torso (where a hug would be).
What does the MS hug feel like?
The MS hug is a type of dysesthesia, an abnormal sensation when there is no stimulus that may be unpleasant, painful, or restrictive. An MS hug can feel like a tight band or girdle is surrounding the body. As with many symptoms of MS, each person may experience the MS hug slightly differently, and some notice it in other parts of their body, including the hands, feet, or head. The duration of the MS hug sensation also can vary between different individuals: for some it doesn’t last long, while others find the feeling persisting. Some people find the MS hug to be quite disabling, while others may not be very affected by this symptom.1,2
What causes the MS hug?
As MS causes damage to the nerves, the nerves can no longer signal effectively. This loss of healthy nerve function causes many symptoms of MS, including the MS hug. In dysesthesia like the MS hug, the impaired nerves and the brain no longer communicate clearly, and the result is uncomfortable or painful sensations. One of the key characteristics of dysesthesia is that it occurs without a stimulus. In addition, it can reduce anxiety for the individual who experiences MS hug to know that while it can be painful, dyskinesia is generally not a sign of tissue damage.1,2
Is it an MS hug or a heart attack?
Most people experience the MS hug around the chest or torso, and the sensation of chest pain, pressure, or squeezing can also be symptoms of a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, other symptoms of a heart attack include discomfort or pain in the upper part of the body (like the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach), shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness. It’s best to be evaluated by a doctor to determine whether symptoms are due to MS or heart disease.1,3
For people who experience the MS hug as a mild sensation or for whom the MS hug is short-lived, treatment may not be necessary. For those who experience significant discomfort or who find the MS hug to be disabling, treatments like Neurontin® (gabapentin) or Elavil® (amytriptyline). Other medications that have been approved for pain conditions associated with other diseases may also be used, such as Cymbalta® (duloxetine hydrochloride) or Lyrica® (pregabalin). Some people find that complementary approaches like acupuncture, meditation, or biofeedback, can also be helpful with painful symptoms like MS hug.1,4