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Warm Weather and Its Effects on Multiple Sclerosis

By Daryl H. Bryant (633 words)
Posted in MS Book News on March 5, 2014

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Warm Weather and Its Effects on Multiple Sclerosis

As summer approaches, it is important to understand what this warm weather means for your Multiple Sclerosis (MS) symptoms. You may experience changes in your mood, a loss of your train of thought, and relapses in your symptoms. The outdoor temperature affects your body’s temperature, but increased physical activity and long hours spent outdoors can also raise or lower your body temperature. Recognizing your symptom outbreaks in both hot and cold temperature changes and understanding how to treat and counteract them will help you stay healthy and stress-free.

Which Symptoms Are Affected by the Weather?

Any of your MS symptoms can flare-up when the temperature changes. Since nerve function is already reduced by the demyelization caused by the disease, changes in heat or cooling can cause communication between nerves to slow down even more. This means that the areas of the brain that are affected by the disease may show symptom-like signs when your body temperature changes. If you have optic damage, you may lose vision. If you have gastrointestinal issues, you may experience stomachaches or cramping. When you experience these symptoms, this is not a typical relapse. The symptoms will disappear once your body returns to a normal, comfortable temperature.

How Does Warm Weather Affect MS Symptoms?

Warm weather appears to affect cognitive function in most MS patients. A study by the Kessler Foundation found that an increase in temperature caused MS patients to experience worsening mental function. Memory and problem-solving skills break down in warmer weather because an increase in body temperature makes it more difficult for the damaged nerves to send messages and impulses throughout the brain. Because of this exacerbated nerve situation, heat and warmth may also cause you to feel tired and physically weak as the nerves cannot effectively communicate with the rest of the body.

Does Cold Weather Have Similar Effects on MS Symptoms?

Just as your core body temperature changes with a rise in the outdoor temperature, it can also be affected by a drop in the outdoor temperature, but this is less common. In the cold, issues with mobility arise and you may experience a pain and tightness in your muscles. Those who experience symptom outbreaks in the heat are more likely to be affected by colder temperatures. If you find yourself affected by temperature changes, avoiding extreme temperatures in either direction will help you reduce symptom outbreaks.

What Can Be Done to Counteract Symptom Outbreaks?

When you overheat, the best way to reduce the outbreak is to cool down as quickly as possible. Stay hydrated with cool water and icy drinks. Wear lightweight clothing and stay in air-conditioned and/or shady areas as often as possible. To avoid overheating during exercise, work out in front of a fan and drink extra water. Also consider water aerobics as the cool water in a pool can help keep your body at a comfortable temperature. To stay warm in cooler climates, use body warmers for your hands, feet, and head, as these are the areas that lose heat the quickest. Drinking warm liquids like tea will also keep your body comfortable.

Warm weather has more of an effect on MS symptoms than cool weather, but if you find that you are sensitive to any changes in temperature, avoid the extremes whenever possible. Temperature changes can cause difficulties in cognitive function as well as muscle and physical abilities, but these symptoms will only last for as long as you remain at an uncomfortable temperature. Remember to dress properly for the weather and consume plenty of cool water when the temperature becomes too hot. Maintaining a healthy body temperature will stop unnecessary outbreaks of your MS symptoms. 

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