How much do you know about MS? 5 lesser-known symptoms linked to the chronic condition
More than 13,0000 people with MS in the UK, and nearly 7,000 people are newly diagnosed each year. And, most people with the condition are disgnosed due to the more common symptoms like fatigue, mobility problems, and pain.
However, many cases take longer to spot because some people experience lesser known symptoms. So, we want to encourage all of our members who are living with MS to shine a light on their condition and get talking. To catalyse the conversation, we have put together a list of less common MS symptoms:
The MS Hug
We’ve all love a hug, but some people with MS experience a much less comforting embrace. Known medically as girdling or banding, this symptom causes tightness and discomfort across various parts of the body, but most frequently around the chest and torso. This unfriendly hug sensation happens when the intercostal muscles, the small muscles that are responsible for expanding your chest when you take a breath, go into spasm.
As with all MS symptoms, people experience the pain differently. Some describe it as a dull ache whilst others describe severe, burn-like pain. Any chest pain is unnerving and even though lots of people living with MS experience this symptom, it is not one that they are often told about. This can leave those experiencing the pain worried and scared.
The MS Hug sensation could be a sign of relapse in your MS condition but when you experience any chest pain that is sudden-onset, severe or limits your breathing you should go to A&E.
Between four and six of every 100 people with MS experience this shock-like symptom. That’s 400 times more than the general population! The symptom, which is characterised by pain in the side of the face, is called trigeminal neuralgia. Most often felt on one side of the face, people with this symptom can feel pain in their upper or lower jaw, cheekbone area or further up the face towards the eye.
This jaw pain often surfaces as attacks that happen throughout the day. These bursts of discomfort are often linked to triggers including shaving, brushing your teeth, eating spicy food and even kissing!
Short, sharp pains in your face could also be linked to dental or ear issues. If you’re experiencing this symptom, it might be worth visiting your GP to rule these out before linking the symptom to your MS.
Uncontrollable laughing or crying
Some people with MS are hit with waves of unexpected laughing or crying which can leave them in some sticky and frustrating situations. Often making an entrance at inappropriate times, pseudobulbar affect (PBA) can happen if MS lesions have affected the nerves that control emotions.
Varying studies show that 10% to 46% of people with MS experience this symptom. An important thing to realise is that it changes the way that you express your emotions, not the way you are actually feeling. This makes it different from the symptoms of depression that people with MS can experience. Although people can experience both PBA and depression at the same time, they must be treated separately.
People living with PBA are often offered medication to manage it. If you are experiencing an episode, implementing self-care techniques like distractions and breathing are good for taking your mind off of it.
Those living with an MS diagnosis can be vulnerable to both hot and cold temperature changes for a range of reasons. Extremes of heat and cold can make nerve signals slow down, particularly when those nerves, or their path, has been damaged by MS. Or, MS can cause lesions to the parts of the brain that control body temperature and reactions like shivering or sweating.
Around 60% to 80% of people who have MS report that heat causes their symptoms to worsen, a much smaller portion are affected by cooler temperatures. Being cold often causes more spasms and nerve pain as well as stiffness and mobility issues.
To combat the cold, or warm for that matter, people with MS should make sure that their living areas are maintained at a constant and comfortable temperature. They should also eat and dress well for the weather!
One of the lesser-known symptoms that temperature is known to affect is double vision. MS can cause inflammation of the nerves that control the eye’s muscles which can result in your eyes not working perfectly together.
Known by medical professionals as diplopia, the optical-illusion causing condition causes you to see two of something when you should only see one. People with MS experience this differently, either in the way that they see the ‘double’ or which eye movements cause their double vision.
Due to its disorientating nature, double vision is often linked to more ‘regular’ symptoms of MS such as dizziness, vertigo and mobility issues. It can be treated with steroids, an addition of a prism to your glasses or an eye patch.
If you’re living with MS or caring for someone who has the condition, be sure to check out the myMS support programme and other resources on the talkMS hub. Have more time to spare? Dr Gretchen Hawley sat down with talkhealth to explore motivation and exercise for MSers and other chronic warriors - watch the webinar today!
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 17 January 2023
Next review: 17 January 2026