How to Manage Heat Sensitivity with Multiple Sclerosis

When you have MS, even a small rise in body temperature -- about 0.5 degrees F -- can make your symptoms worse. Lots of things can cause this, including warm weather, hot showers, a heavy meal, and exercise.

Heat-related symptoms aren’t harmful and go away as soon as you cool down. There are also many ways to chill out so heat is less likely to bother you.

Why You’re Sensitive to Heat

MS damages the protective sheath around nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. This slows down nerve signals, so your body doesn’t always respond the way it should. Heat can slow these signals even more. MS can also affect the part of your brain that controls your body’s temperature. Symptoms like fatigue, pain, and trouble thinking can flare up, making it hard to get things done. Other symptoms can worsen too, such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems with walking or balance, sometimes leading to falls
  • Trouble with your bowels or bladder
  • Trouble with focus and memory

What You Can Do

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You could run the AC all summer (not a budget- or earth-friendly option) and avoid the gym. But there are some much better solutions. Try these tips:

  • If you exercise outdoors, go early in the morning or at night.
  • Don’t wear too many layers, even if it’s cold.
  • Swim in an unheated pool. (Swimming is great for many reasons.)
  • Wear a cooling collar. You wrap this lightweight device around your neck like a scarf. It cools you as the ice inside melts.
  • They cool your core with frozen packs or gels.
  • Some you pop in the freezer or refrigerator; others have batteries.
  • Many are thin enough to wear discreetly under clothing.
  • You can stay refreshed for up to 3 hours.

These gadgets can cost hundreds of dollars, so do your homework first. A few programs provide cooling vests for people with MS, including the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America's Cooling Distribution Program and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation's Cooling Program.

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