Symptom Series: Heat sensitivity

Learn how temperature may affect MS symptoms and, get tips on keeping cool
Girl wiping sweat from forehead

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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 MS  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.

Many people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience heat sensitivity, which may make some MS symptoms worse. Even as little as a 0.5°F change in body temperature may affect someone with MS. Fatigue, cognitive function (attention and concentration), muscle weakness, and vision problems can all be made worse by heat.

For people living with MS, heat sensitivity is caused by the damage to the central nervous system. When the body attacks the myelin (the protective casing around nerves), the nerve is left exposed, making it more sensitive to heat. When overheated, nerve signals may be delayed or blocked, leading to other symptoms. But there’s good news! For most people, heat sensitivity doesn’t typically lead to permanent damage to the nerves, so when symptoms are worsened by heat, the effect is often temporary.

Here are some tips to help manage body temperature and keep cool:

Lowering the house thermostat

Adjust the thermostat

Whenever possible, adjust the temperature in your environment to match your comfort level. If you go somewhere you can’t adjust the temperature, try bringing cool water and a personal fan. Staying in a well air-conditioned office, home, or car may help prevent you from feeling overheated. However, be cautious of extremes in either direction because cold temperature may also affect MS symptoms. Adjust the thermostat to your personal comfort zone.

Woman going through clothes

Wear appropriate clothing

Try to look at the weather before picking out your outfit. In warmer weather, consider wearing lighter materials, such as cotton, rayon, or linen. You can also try wearing looser fits and accessories with ventilation, like mesh sneakers. No matter the weather, consider dressing in layers. If you feel overheated, you can remove a layer. Watch an Above MS expert contributor give some fashion tips for people living with MS. Remember, you don’t have to feel hot to look cool.

Man taking a cold shower

Take a cool bath or shower

A cool bath may help reduce core body temperature (around the heart and spinal cord). Consider a cool wash after physical activity or time spent in a warm environment. Enjoy this time to yourself to cool down physically and mentally. While sitting in the cool bathtub, you can take advantage of the alone time to practice mindfulness and meditation.

Man cooling down after workout

Wear a cooling scarf

A cooling scarf or vest is designed to help cool the body’s core temperature. It absorbs body heat, and then mimics the body’s sweat glands by pushing out perspiration through the cloth. This helps the body stay cool. Try wearing a cooling scarf on hot days or when doing physical activity.

Meals prepped in the fridge

Meal prep

The kitchen can heat up quickly, so try to plan ahead as much as possible. First, try setting up all of your ingredients and tools before getting started. Having a good workflow may help reduce your time in the heat. When you’re ready to get cooking, consider making all of your meals for the week. You can try out no-bake recipes for some dishes. If you prepare meals ahead of time, you won’t have to spend every day in the kitchen. On days you just want to chill out, you might thank yourself for making food ahead of time! Check out some recipes.

Woman drinking a bottle of water

Stay hydrated

The body’s natural reaction to heat is to cool down by sweating, so be sure to drink plenty of cool water to help stay hydrated. Try avoiding drinks with caffeine, such as sodas, coffee, and energy drinks. These drinks are diuretics, which means they may make you go to the bathroom more frequently. This takes away from the fluid in your body.

There are plenty of ways to keep cool, which may help manage some MS symptoms. Everybody’s experience with MS is different, so work with your healthcare team to develop best practices to control your body temperature.

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