I love giving big bear hugs. I love getting them in return. I enjoy hugging my husband, son, cats, family and friends. I've even been known to hug a delicious dish of homemade chocolate ice cream drenched in hot fudge sauce.
But a Multiple Sclerosis hug? That's one hug I'd like to live without.
After living with MS for almost 30 years and tolerating a permanent MS hug, I rarely notice the tight squeeze wrapped around my middle.
Would I like to live without it? In a New York minute.
A common symptom of MS, the MS hug is like MS itself. It's different for each person and unpredictable in its severity.
What exactly is an MS hug?
It's an abnormal sensation that's caused by a lesion on the spinal cord. This neuropathic pain is a result of tiny muscles holding our ribs together that are located between each rib that goes into a spasm.
The hug may not only occur in the stomach but can also be located low in the waist or high in the chest. It can be on one side of the body or both. Stress and fatigue may trigger it, and it can last for minutes or years.
Some people with an MS hug require medical intervention. Their breathing becomes painful and mimics symptoms of a heart attack. That's when it's time to call the doctor for help.
An MRI, steroids or other medications including antispasmodic medications such as Lioresal, Valium and Xanaflex, or neuropathic pain relief medications such as Lyrica or Neurontin may be prescribed if the hug is caused by an exacerbation.
Some patients try Botox, which has been shown to be effective in the short term to relieve symptoms. These patients have reported it as being fairly effective, yet it is not a cure.
My hug worsens if I'm overtired or under a lot of stress. What do I do to help manage it?
Meditate, practice yoga or take a walk.
Lower my body temperature by using a cooling vest or taking a cool bath.
De-stress (I read, write, knit, watch old movies.)
Take breaks every twenty minutes while working. Stand up and stretch.
Stop worrying by focusing on positive thoughts.
Living with this extra hug doesn't mean I'll ever stop enjoying giving and getting hugs. After all - "A hug is a handshake from the heart. ~Author Unknown
Cathy Chester is an award-winning writer and health advocate who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for almost 30 years. In her blog, An Empowered Spirit, she writes about finding the joy in life despite disability. But MS does not define her, so she also writes about living a quality life in midlife, social good causes, animal rights, book and movie reviews, and the importance of using compassion and kindness as a way of making the world a better place. Her work has been published in numerous online magazines and she takes pride in helping others manage the difficulties of living with a chronic illness.
Follow Cathy on Twitter