By Tammy Worth
Cold weather aggravates fatigue and spasticity for some with MS, but that doesn’t mean you have to hibernate during the cold fall and winter months.
Overheating during hot weather or in a hot bath is known to magnify symptoms in many people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
But for some, cold weather can be just as problematic. No one knows this better than Barbara Appelbaum, a 54-year-old motivational speaker, author, and wellness coach who lives in Chicago and faces its unrelenting winters every year.
“When the season changes and it gets really cold — not normal cold, but bitter cold — I get increased fatigue and also experience occasional shooting pains, primarily in my feet,” says Appelbaum.
It’s not really known why cold weather can worsen symptoms in people with MS, but Kathleen Costello, a certified multiple sclerosis nurses at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and vice president of healthcare access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says it could be due to disruption of pathways in the brain and spinal cord.
She says some people experience greater bladder urgency and, most commonly, spasticity — stiffness and involuntary muscle spasms — in cold weather. It’s important for people to track their symptoms, says Costello. And if your symptoms change when the weather changes, it’s a good idea to let your physician know.
“It could be a general worsening of symptoms, it could be the temperature change, and it could be lack of mobility,” Costello says. “You may not be getting enough exercise and movement in general.”
Home Remedies for Dealing With Cold Weather
- You may be able to ease your winter symptom flares without adding a drug to your regimen.
- Stretching and doing yoga can be beneficial for increasing mobility and reducing muscle stiffness. Appelbaum practices restorative yoga, which she says allows them to warm up their body without overheating — enabling them to avoid the dizziness and weakness as experiences when their body temperature is too high.
- You can also wear lots of layers, both to stay warm and so that you can quickly remove a layer if you begin to get too hot.
- And drinks warm drinks like hot tea in the winter, both to warm up internally and to keep your hands warm.
- If you drive, preheating the car before setting out can make a big difference if you’re sensitive to the cold. Consider using a heated steering wheel that keeps your hands warm while driving. If you’re not in the market for a new car, you can find a variety of heated steering wheel covers for purchase online.
- Getting enough rest is also helpful if the cold makes you fatigued.
- If you feel super-exhausted, take a nap. “Fighting it is like fighting city hall: It just doesn’t work.