Those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) know what it’s like when in a hot environment. It’s not pleasant, and heat can make symptoms worse. Between 60-80% of those with MS have some intolerance to heat, producing symptoms of numbness, fatigue and more.
There are a number of strategies the experts recommend to help control the effects of heat among MS patients. Most people with MS are heat sensitive because of the scars in their central nervous system. Where they have demyelination even in the spots that are repaired by their own system, those areas do not insulate the nervous system as well as the original myelin coating. As a consequence, increases in body temperature can cause an almost immediate change in their reaction to heat.
Heat exposure can cause previous known symptoms to be reactivated or new symptoms to appear. The upside is that these symptoms don’t cause permanent damage. Additionally, people with MS have trouble regulating their body temperature and their sweat glands don’t work like they are supposed to. Consequently, they need additional help to regulate body temperature when its hot.
Among the many heat sources in our environment, those external ones we can sometimes avoid…i.e. the sun. Internal heat sources are a different story, and they can include heat from a fever, menopause, hot flashes, hot beverages and spicy food. Medicines can also cause fluctuations in how the body functions, so it’s a good idea to review your drugs and their side effects. Most of these internal heat sources are hard to control, but there are ways to stay more comfortable.
Here are a few tips:
- Stay hydrated- Drink plenty of cool drinks, especially water. Sodas and juices don’t quench thirst as much as water. Limit the caffeine and alcohol you consume, because they can elevate your temperature. Take along a cool drink if you’re traveling. Additionally, eat cool foods that contain water like grapes and watermelon.
- Cool Places- Stay in the shade, or if you must be out in the heat, keep a spray bottle nearby and spray yourself when you feel too hot. Stay near water, and take a dip in the pool when convenient. If you’re about to get into a hot sitting car, let the air conditioner run for a bit before you get in and start driving. Air condition your house, or stay near an AC window unit. If your utility bills get too high, tint and insulate your windows. Stay away from appliances, particularly stoves, grills, dryer, heaters, ovens and other machines, which give off heat. Finally, create your own shade by carrying an umbrella.
- Shower- Before doing something strenuous like playing sports, walking or running, cool off with a shower before the event. It will increase your tolerance to heat. Alternatively, you can take an ice water plunge with your feet and hands to cool your core temperature before venturing out. The benefits of pre-cooling your body can last up to two hours in regulating your internal temperature. During your activity, take cool down breaks and don’t push yourself to the point of being overheated.
- Prepare for Heat- Be strategic about your exposure. Run your errands that require you to be outdoors early or late in the day. Avoid the mid-day heat between 10am and 2pm. Humidity can also play a big role in how your body reacts to the heat, so plan accordingly.
- Dress appropriately- Wear light-colored clothing made of cotton, or athletic “dry-fit” clothing that can wick moisture away from the body. You can also purchase cooling garments like neck scarves or wrist bands that you pre-soak in water. You can also create your own cooling garment by moistening the clothes you are going to wear, creating your own evaporative system that will regulate rising body temperature.
If you suffer from Multiple Sclerosis, don’t be discouraged by the heat of the summer months. Find the strategies that work best for you, because you can beat the heat!
David Novak is a international syndicated newspaper columnist, appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV around the world. His byline has appeared in GQ, National Geographic, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, USA Today, among others, and he has appeared on The Today Show, the CBS Morning Show and Paul Harvey Radio. David is a specialist at consumer technology, health and fitness, and he also owns a PR firm and a consulting company where he and his staff focus on these industries. He is a regular contributing editor for Healthline. For more information, visit http://www.healthline.com/.