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The Effect of Heat on People with Multiple Sclerosis

AI generated image of a man walking with a cane on a sunny day.
AI generated image of a man walking with a cane. He’s walking on a sidewalk on a hot, sunny day.

It’s that time of year again. It’s already over 100 here in Oklahoma and it doesn’t look like much relief is coming anytime soon. So let’s talk about heat. It affects many people with MS and I’m one of the lucky ones to really get a good smack from Mother Nature when it’s too hot.


But first, a refresher.


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic illness that affects the central nervous system, often leading to a wide range of symptoms that vary greatly in severity. For many people living with MS, heat can significantly exacerbate these symptoms, making the summer months particularly challenging.


Understanding MS and Heat Sensitivity


Heat sensitivity, or Uhthoff’s phenomenon, is common in people with MS. This condition occurs when a slight increase in body temperature causes a temporary worsening of MS symptoms. The underlying cause is related to the demyelination of nerve fibers. When the body heats up, the body needs to work harder for nerve impulses to work properly, leading to a resurgence of symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, vision problems, and cognitive difficulties.


The Impact of Heat on Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms


  • Fatigue: Heat can amplify the already debilitating fatigue associated with MS. This can make daily activities more exhausting and reduce the overall quality of life. (Big time)


  • Mobility Issues: Many individuals with MS experience muscle weakness and coordination problems. Heat can worsen these issues, increasing the risk of falls and injuries. (Oh yeah)


  • Cognitive Functions: Cognitive impairments, often referred to as “cog fog,” can be more pronounced in hot weather. This can affect memory, concentration, and the ability to process information. (This one not so much)


  • Visual Disturbances: Heat can exacerbate optic neuritis, a common MS symptom, leading to blurred vision or temporary loss of vision. (Luckily I have zero vision issues other than your normal, run-of-the-mill bad eyesight)


Coping Strategies for Managing Heat Sensitivity


While avoiding heat completely is not a viable solution, there are several strategies that people with MS can adopt to manage their symptoms more effectively during warmer months:


  • Stay Cool: Using air conditioning, fans, and even cooling garments can help maintain a lower body temperature in the heat. Cold showers or swimming can also be beneficial.


  • Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is crucial. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine can help keep the body cool.


  • Plan Activities Wisely: Scheduling outdoor activities for cooler times of the day, such as early morning or late evening, can reduce exposure to high temperatures.


  • Rest and Relaxation: Taking frequent breaks and avoiding overexertion can help manage fatigue. Rest in a cool environment whenever possible.


  • Medical Devices and Medications: Some cooling devices and medications can assist in managing heat sensitivity. Speak with your neurologist for personalized recommendations.


Heat sensitivity poses significant challenges for many people with MS, but with careful planning and proactive strategies, it is possible to mitigate its effects. Understanding the relationship between heat and MS symptoms is the first step in managing this condition more effectively. By staying prepared, those of us with MS can enjoy a better quality of life, even during the hottest months of the year.

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