Tolerating the Heat While Living with MS

Those living with multiple sclerosis (MS) often dread the heat of the summer months. Due to the demyelination of nerve endings, nerve transmission requires much more energy to occur in the heat. As a result, exposure to warm weather will often worsen the symptoms of MS. Even the slightest changes in body temperature,  due to anything from exercise to a fever, can cause weakness and exhaustion. This temporary, heat-induced increase in MS symptoms is called Uhthoff’s Syndrome, after the doctor who first recognized it in the early 20th century.

Heat-related symptoms include weakness, blurred vision, light-headedness, vertigo, confusion, increased fatigue, and tremors. Symptoms may vary for each individual. For example, a brisk walk in 90-degree weather may be fine for some, as long as they avoid the sun and drink cold beverages. Others feel symptoms at lower temperatures and with less activity. In addition, symptoms may range in severity from annoying for some, to debilitating for others. Lastly, the return of normal body temperature is quicker for some and longer for others.

So what are useful strategies to ease the effects of the summer heat?

  • Cooling vests, body and neck pillows, headbands, and hats can help maintain normal body temperature.
  • Cool off in a swimming pool, which is also an excellent way to get exercise through aquatherapy.
  • Use misting fans and cold water bottles.
  • Cold beverages and foods can help reduce body temperature. Always choose beverages that hydrate the body, meaning no alcohol and limiting caffeinated products.  Water with lemon is an excellent choice.
  • Remember to dress sensibly, by choosing light, loose-fitting clothing. Dark colors will absorb heat.
  • When vacationing, don’t forget to plan ahead. Pack a battery-powered spray bottle fan filled with water, as well as a thermal cooler filled with ice packs and water bottles for long road trips.

How do you know if you are becoming dehydrated?  The following symptoms are warning signs:

  • Dry lips & tongue
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps

Any of the symptoms above are a red flag reminding you that you need to take immediate measures, like increasing your water intake.

Magee was recently awarded a grant from the MS Society for wellness promotion in those individuals who are living with MS and who aspire to a healthier lifestyle. The MS Healthy Living Program is a weekly program that is held at Magee’s Outpatient Riverfront location.  The program aims to assist those living with MS by providing regular educational, recreational, cognitive, and exercise activities. Exercise classes focus on cardiovascular health, resistance training, stretching, and core strengthening. These sessions also incorporate varied activities such as Yoga, Zumba, dance movement therapy, and circuit training. Socialization and stress reduction is enhanced through the use of art and horticultural therapy. The program is held every Thursday from 9 am to 12 noon, followed by light snacks.

If you or someone you know is living with MS, we welcome you to join us for this exciting new program. For registration info and questions, please contact Mary Clare Schafer RN, MS, ONC, CRRN (program director) at 215-218-3905.

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