Easing Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms in Extreme Heat

Mandy Crest Health Guide March 24, 2008
  • Spring is beckoning! The birds are singing, flowers are blooming and, in some parts of the country, the heat is already on. With open arms, we welcome in this season of rebirth. Spring, with its spirit of renewal, uplifts the heart and mind.

    Not far behind spring come the hot, humid days of summer. We all know the rules of summer. Limit exposure to the sun, drink plenty of fluids, wear sunglasses and use a high SPF sunblock. Multiple sclerosis patients have one additional thing to keep in mind. The heat.

    Summer fun can quickly turn into a nightmare when MS symptoms flare or worsen due to extreme heat. Elevated body temperature slows nerve impulse conduction in demyelinated areas of the central nervous system, magnifying symptoms to sometimes frightening levels.

    I have had several instances with the heat which have taught me well. Simply laying poolside in Arizona one summer was enough to render me unable to walk for a short time. I was in the shade, but soaring temperatures caught me off guard. It was a sobering experience. Another time, I made a game of it and persuaded my friends to come with me, as I followed the shade making its way around the pool in the afternoon. And the hot tub ... I don't believe I'll try that one again.

    In addition to summer sun, hot tubs, hot baths, hot showers, and saunas should be avoided all year long. People with MS should also refrain from strenuous exercise in hot weather.

    Did you know that, for many years, the 'hot bath test' was actually used to diagnose multiple sclerosis? Doctors would observe patients immersed in hot water, watching for the telltale neurological impairment which then improved with cooling. The advent of the MRI has made this test obsolete in most of the world.

    The good news is that this is usually a temporary state of affairs. No actual neurological damage is taking place, although the symptoms feel similar. After cooling down and a little rest, symptoms usually improve.

    Don't let MS take away your summer fun! Take advantage of air conditioning, fans, and cold drinks. There are many products aimed at helping us to keep our cool. Among them, cooling vests, personal fans, spray mist bottles, and ice packs. Wide brimmed hats and cotton clothing also go a long way.

    So, don't lose your cool! Go take a dip in the pool. Then grab an ice-cold drink, set up your lounge chair in the shade and enjoy some summer fun!