Living Well With MS
Image by BruceBlaus, via Wikimedia Commons

Living Well With MS

Life is full of things that are out of our control. You can’t control a storm from rolling in on your wedding day. You can’t keep those grey hairs from accumulating as you get older. You can be as meticulous or as structured as you’d like, but sometimes things can happen that we didn’t anticipate. Like many things in life, being diagnosed with a lifelong condition, such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), is something you can’t control.  The key is learning what it takes for living well with MS and know what treatments are available.

What is MS?

Every day, millions of people struggle with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – but what exactly is MS? Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the body’s central nervous system. The disease disrupts the flow of information that’s being transmitted to and from the brain. The flow of information within the central nervous system is in control of everything we do. The central nervous system gives us the ability to get out of bed in the morning, make a cup of coffee, and even remember an upcoming doctor’s appointment.

The cause of MS is unknown and often difficult to diagnose. Those who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) can experience an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. Being diagnosed with MS can leave you feeling powerless, but it’s essential to know that you’re not. You have the power to control how to respond to what’s happening. Learning to accept your diagnosis is the first stride towards living well with MS.

To understand more about MS, it’s essential to understand that individual symptoms vary significantly from person to person and largely depend on the disease’s location within the body. Typically, MS affects people between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. Symptoms may interfere with conscious movements such as eating and speaking and unconscious movements such as swallowing and breathing. MS can also cause brain fog, involuntary eye movements, visual impairment, loss of bladder and bowel control, muscle weakness, fatigue, aches, and numbness.

In addition, those diagnosed with MS are susceptible to experience a sensory symptom called MS hug. This symptom is most commonly described as a tight pain around the torso but can occur anywhere between the neck or feet. MS hug is considered an ‘invisible symptom’ because it feels like a real band is squeezing around the body. The underlying cause of MS is damage caused to the spinal cord. When the spinal cord mistakenly stimulates the ribs’ muscles, it causes the muscles to clamp down and spasm. MS hug can occur sporadically or persistently.

How does it feel?

MS Hug - strong self hug
Photo by Hala Al-Asadi on Unsplash

The type of pain can sometimes imitate gallbladder problems, lung disease, or a heart attack (Depending on where the discomfort is). The severity of the feeling varies for each person. Some people describe MS hug as an ‘uncomfortable tickle’ or ‘awkward feeling.’ Others experience painful aches and burning sensations that were frightening.

A person who experienced this feeling stated, “MS is giving you a hug to show who has power over your body.” Others who have experienced MS hug describe it as “A horrific squeeze” and “an elephant on my chest.” 

Despite the severity of each experience, MS hug is not a pleasant feeling.

Treatment

The good news is, MS hug often goes away without medical treatment. But there are ways you can relieve discomfort if the feeling persists. The following are some ways to help manage symptoms and start living well with MS. 

  • Effective and consistent communication with your neurologist is vital. Find out what your doctor recommends to treat MS hug. Anticonvulsant medications, such as Neurontin or Lyrica, are used to treat neuropathic pain symptoms. Ask your doctor about over-the-counter pain relievers that may provide temporary relief for muscle spasms. Magnesium, Calcium, and Vitamin D are also shown to reduce symptoms. Talk to your doctor beforehand to make the right decision for yourself with your medical provider.
  • Visiting a physical therapist is shown to be very beneficial in managing those physical symptoms. The physical therapist will help relieve some of the painful symptoms such as muscle spasms, numbness, stiffness. 
  • Applying heat or ice to the area of pain may help to ease symptoms. 
  • A variety of different things can trigger-MS hug. Regulating stress levels and getting the right amount of sleep is vital to avoid flare-ups. Meditation and deep breathing exercises can help lower stress and reduce tension in the body. It’s crucial to allow time for your body and mind to relax. 
  • Remember to stay active. Light exercise can improve your mood and overall well-being.
  • Get a journal and write in it daily. Log your activities, food intake, emotions, and any pain symptoms. This can help you find any patterns or triggers that caused symptoms to flare up.   
  • Another way to reduce stress is by finding a support group. Talking with others who have similar experiences can prevent feelings of isolation. This can provide comfort and help manage difficult emotions. 
  • MS can also cause cognitive dysfunction, which affects the working memory, attention span, and ability to solve problems or make decisions. Treatments such a cognitive rehabilitation therapy can help restore those cognitive abilities. This treatment can strengthen the mind over time, just as physical therapy strengthens the body.

Conclusion

In conclusion, several types of therapies treat MS, which are not limited to what is referenced above. It’s essential to communicate with your doctor to find which treatments may work for you. Different treatments often serve other purposes. Treatments can help manage symptoms, treat attacks, or prevent future attacks and progression of the disease. This article is not intended to substitute medical advice. The purpose of this article is to educate others about this disease, and those with MS know that they are not alone.  

Featured Image by Bruno / Germany from Pixabay