Chill Out! Keeping Cool with MS

While most of us feel uncomfortable in the heat of the summer, others are significantly impaired by it. Some neurological diseases impair the body’s ability to adjust to climate changes. One such disease is multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system, i.e. the brain, spinal cord and nerves. For people with MS, the insulated sheath that normally protects their nerves (called myelin) is damaged, causing a disruption in the transmission of the nervous impulses.  Because of this damage, even a ¼ degree increase in body temperature can temporarily worsen MS symptoms, such as difficulty with walking, swallowing problems and visual changes.

In the heat of the summer, it’s important to take steps to mitigate the effects of an elevated temperature, especially while remaining active.  Here are some tips to keep your MS symptoms from worsening with the heat index.

  • If at all possible and practical, attempt to stay in a cool air-conditioned environment during times of increased heat and humidity.  Try to exercise during cooler times of the day, perhaps morning or evening.
  •  If swimming is a favorite activity, then this activity should be done in water temperature that is between 80-84 degrees.  Check with the pool manager or lifeguard who would normally check the temperature of the water.
  • Choose clothing that is light-weight and breathable.  Fabrics that allow the maximal amount of air through help keep your body cooler.
  • When exercising indoors, even if the air conditioner is on, use a portable fan to increase the air flow to keep core body temperature from elevating   ¼ to ½ degree.
  • To prevent dehydration from sweating, be certain to increase fluid intake.  Drink plenty of cold water, icy drinks, ice smoothies to replenish water lose that normally occurs as a result of exercise. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea as they serve as a diuretic, which further depletes your body’s water reservoir.
  • Use cooling garments before and after exercise.  Examples of this include neck wraps, bandanas, cooling vests, and bucket hats with cooling inserts.

It’s important to remember that the increased symptoms that occur as a result of an elevation in temperatures does not contribute to the disease process. Once your body temperature returns to normal and the source of the heat has been removed, MS symptoms generally return to baseline.  But that being said, safety never takes a holiday. Be sure to follow the above tips to keep cool while staying active!

Do you have any tips for keeping your MS symptoms from worsening in the heat of summer? How about while exercising?

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