Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently. No two people have the exact same symptoms or experiences with the disease. Since MS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, you may have a wide range of symptoms. Some are visible and can be seen by others. Others are invisible and are only seen or felt by the person with MS.
Through our Symptom Series, we’ll provide some information and tips about different symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. Remember, your healthcare team should be your primary source for information or any questions.
Up to 80% of people with MS experience fatigue. You may be dealing with fatigue if you feel weighed down, have low energy, or find yourself struggling with everyday tasks (such as brushing your teeth, doing laundry, or cooking). Fatigue may also be linked to poor sleep, sedating medicine, and as a side effect of certain medications.
Whether you have MS or not, you may experience fatigue. However, a person with MS could also experience MS fatigue, known as lassitude, which tends to be more severe. This type of fatigue could occur nearly every day, starting in the morning, even after a good night’s rest.
Here are some tips for managing fatigue:
What time of day is your fatigue most prevalent? Which activities wear you out the quickest? Keep a journal to track your fatigue. Eventually, you may recognize a pattern, which can be useful when you plan activities and talk to your healthcare provider.
Heat and humidity may make your fatigue worse. Slowly cooling down your body may reduce your fatigue, as well as enhance your physical performance, strengthen your ability to retain information and think clearly (cognition), and improve motor functions. To stay cool, you can try to keep your home at a lower temperature, take a refreshing shower, dress lightly, or consider wearing a cooling vest.
Although fatigue may make the most simple of tasks more difficult, it may be helpful to include exercise as part of your routine. Fatigue may affect everybody differently, so be sure to know your own limits. Exercising could include a walk around the block, gardening, yoga, swimming, or even simply taking the stairs. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before you begin any new exercise routine. Your healthcare provider can help find the best fit for you.
The saying you are what you eat couldn’t be more applicable to people with fatigue. Try to follow a balanced diet and avoid soft drinks like soda and energy drinks, which will give you a sugar rush but not sustain your energy. If you love junk food, cutting it out entirely may be tough. Consider treating yourself in moderation. Note how you feel after each meal to learn which foods most affect your fatigue, and talk to your healthcare provider about them.
Start by listing your daily activities. Think about how you already go about performing these tasks, and ask yourself if there’s any way to simplify. Perhaps you can meal prep, pick out your outfit the night before, or memorize the aisles of your local grocery store to limit unnecessary strolling. You can even schedule time to rest! Although creating a game plan may help you manage your fatigue, it’s okay to accept that not everything will get done based on your original timeline. Try not to overexert yourself.
Fatigue does not have to prevent you from doing all the things you love. Consider these tips and talk to your healthcare provider about ways to help manage fatigue by adjusting your lifestyle.
“I find that I have to be a little more organized. When I’m going into a meeting for work, I may review the information for the meeting the night before and maybe the day of.”
—Jessica T., Social Worker