MS symptoms can often worsen in the heat - you know it, we know it. And today is set to be the hottest day of the year so far!! Great news for ensuring adequate exposure to sunlight in terms of Vitamin D, not so good if overheating is an issue for you. However, there are ways to stay comfortable and enjoy the sun.
The Effects of Heat on MS
Any change in body temperature makes it more difficult for the Central Nervous System to conduct messages. During summer, overheating can be a particular problem for people with multiple sclerosis because of demyelinated nerves. The destruction of the myelin sheath leads to unprotected nerves; signal conduction when overheated is even more difficult. Symptoms are temporarily exacerbated but it is important to remember that the higher temperature does not cause more disease activity.
People might experience extra sensations of pins and needles, tingling, fatigue, cognition problems and others when overheated. Sweating is one of the ways our bodies regulate temperature; excessive sweating might be due to loss of thermoregulation. If you exercise, you might have experienced blurred or doubled vision during or after a workout. This is known as Uhthoff's Phenomenon and is caused by an elevated core body-temperature. Once you cool down, the effects fade away and you return to your normal vision. It can be disconcerting and even dangerous if you’re out running on the roads, so please take care.
The human body (yours!) has inbuilt mechanisms to maintain a set, comfortable core temperature at which it functions best. Everyone gets overheated, whether it is from being out in the sun too long or in a stuffy room or from not drinking enough water. Here are some tips to maintain a comfortable temperature and deal with the times when you over heat.
- Personal hydration is vital to good health. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and if you’re out in the sun, take regular breaks indoors or in the shade to prevent overheating.
- Keep a jug of cold water in the fridge at home or work. Always make sure the ice tray is filled and ready.
- Wear loose fitting clothing preferably natural fibres such as cotton.
- If you get overheated, drink cold fluids and go somewhere cooler. It can be useful to run cold water on your wrists for a few minutes; it aides temperature regulation.
- Cold showers and baths are a great way of quickly reducing body temperature. Some people with MS always finish their personal bathing at a colder temperature
- Aim to maintain a cool home environment by pulling the shades in some rooms to keep out direct sunlight. Open doors and windows to keep air circulating.
- Access to an air conditioned room needs to be considered if symptoms are seriously affected by heat.
- At work, sit near an opened window and if possible, have a fan circulating the air in the room.
- Keep icepacks available for an emergency.
- If you’re fatigued, take rest in a shaded room.
It important to make the most of this sunny weather by doing what we enjoy. Making the most of this summer time might also mean not doing some things so you can do others. Managing of your time and energy levels will ensure that when you’re active, you are well enough to enjoy your experiences.
Whatever the weather, here at MS Ireland we wish all our readers a healthy, happy time.
- Uhthoff’s Sign
- Dr. R Lonergan, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin
- Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, Professor George Jelinek
Blog post orginally published 2014