How heat affects multiple sclerosis patients

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may find hot summer months in Oklahoma particularly unbearable. This condition is often accompanied by heat intolerance, which increases during the spring and summer months. Talisha Nichols, APRN-CNP, neurology specialist with Utica Park Clinic, explains why this happens and how these symptoms can be treated.

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. The disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerve fibers.

“Long-term effects of MS can be further degradation of use of arms and legs, decreased cognitive function, increased fatigue and changes in ambulation. It can also cause balance issues, changes in vision and neuropathies,” said Nichols. “When properly treated, MS symptoms and long-term effects can be better managed and minimized. Treatment can also decrease the lesions, or ‘scarring’, noted to the brain with ongoing MS.”

How does warmer weather impact some neurological patients with multiple sclerosis?

Heat intolerance is a symptom of MS and for those with MS, increased heat during spring and summer months can exacerbate symptoms or even cause “MS flares.”

“A unique aspect of MS symptomatology is the highly prevalent temperature sensitivity of its sufferers, where neurological symptoms are temporarily exacerbated by environmental or exercise-induced increases in body temperature,” said Nichols. “Heat sensitivity or Uhthoff’s phenomenon occurs in a majority of MS patients, where increases in core body temperature as little as half a degree can trigger the worsening of temporary symptoms.”

How can patients treat heat insensitivity?

“My best recommendation is to stay cool and avoid activities that involve direct sunlight or exposure to heat,” said Nichols. “Also, due to increased use of swimming pools and hot tubs during these months, MS patients must be aware of water temperatures as to not increase body temperature.”

There are several MS organizations that supply cooling vests or other cooling apparatuses for patients to utilize in the summer months. Visit this link to learn more about the neurological services offered at Utica Park Clinic. Talisha Nichols, APRN-CNP is accepting new patients. Visit this link or call 918-579-3870 for more information.