Spring is in full bloom and summer is beckoning. It’s a lovely and uplifting time of year, but for people with multiple sclerosis, summer’s heat and humidity can cause symptoms to become more extreme. These temporary flare-ups are called pseudo-exacerbations and they pack a powerful punch.
They are common enough that before the introduction of MRI and other modern testing, the “hot bath test” was sometimes used to diagnose MS. Doctors would observe people who were immersed in hot water and watch for neurological impairment that improved after cooling.
Unlike true exacerbations, pseudo-exacerbations do not involve neurological damage, although symptoms can be quite severe. Pseudo-exacerbations can be caused by any number of stressors such as urinary tract infection, fatigue, flu, or elevated body temperature.
Exposure to heat can quickly lead to trouble. Raised body temperature makes it difficult for already damaged nerve fibers to transmit electrical impulses, resulting in an exaggeration of existing symptoms which may include weakness, fatigue, dizziness, decreased cognitive function, numbness, and blurred vision.
As one who experienced this early on in my life with MS, I can say without hesitation that I do not ever want to experience it again. A little extra vacation sun in a climate much hotter than I was used to knocked the wind out of my sails in a major way, rendering me almost completely unable to move until I cooled down. Unable to drag myself back to the hotel room, it took an hour in the shade and several tall glasses of ice water to get me back on track, and another several hours to fully recover.
Temporary though it is, it is a frightening ordeal, and quite debilitating. I’ve given up on hot tubs and hot baths forever, I’ve sworn off mid-day sun, and I am cognizant of the pitfalls of traveling to warmer climates.
Spring is a good time of year to review the phenomenon of heat-related pseudo-exacerbations and what to do about them. If you have MS, you don’t necessarily have to avoid summer fun. There are several things you can do to help avoid pseudo-exacerbations caused by heat:
If you begin to feel the warning signs of overheating, such as lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness, and extreme fatigue:
Overheating is enough of a problem for people with MS that there are products like the cooling vest that are made specifically to help. For more information about these products, how they work, and how to get them, check out these cooling programs.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo
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