Balancing MS and the Dog Days of Summer

If you were to think of your body as an electric extension cord and your nervous system as the current of electricity running through that cord, you will be better equipped to understand why the combination of increased body temperature and MS can become so crippling.

Think of MS as the damaged part of that cord. We’ve all observed extension cords that have been in use too long and have frayed in certain areas. Sometimes the plastic covering of the cord is missing altogether in spots, enabling the electricity to ignite with items around it. Or, we may have noticed a cord is damaged and it will not allow the electricity to flow freely. In the latter case some try jiggling the cord to get the juice flowing again.

When the core body temperature of a person with MS climbs too high, as it often does when the hazy, hot, and humid days of summer hit, then the juice that is our central nervous system is disrupted and the flare-ups occur.

While very serious in nature, these attacks are actually pseudo flare-ups, not genuine MS relapses. These pseudo exacerbations have more than one recognized cause, although the summertime heat is the cause that will be considered in this article.

People with MS have all experienced the following scenario: You are outside, it is not very hot yet, as you have started out early in the morning, to beat the heat. You are down to your last item on your list of errands and you feel the sun’s rays intensifying as the temperature begins to rise.

‘Should I do this last errand, or should I call it a day?’ you ask yourself.

You decide, if you make it quick, you can run to your one last store. The store is air-conditioned, so you feel slightly refreshed as you head out of the store. You have a short walk back to your car and now the sun is really shining in all its glory. In the short time it takes you to reach your car, you notice your right foot is dropping and you’re having to swing at the hip to complete your step. A dozen or so steps of this type of walking has totally exhausted you and all of a sudden the bag you are carrying in your left arm feels twice as heavy as it did when you left the store. You feel your left hand trembling and you just make it back to your car in time enough to place the bag on the car’s trunk so that you don’t spill the contents. You take a few breathes, find your keys, unlock the car and collapse inside. Now your energy is totally spent, so you start the car, blast the air-conditioning and try to give your body a few minutes to cool off and revive.

You are bewildered by how much physical ability has left you in doing that one last errand. Now you must worry about getting your packages inside once you are back home, since you have used up your reserve. You stumble your way back and forth from the car to the house a couple of times, and when you are finally finished, you are totally exhausted and experiencing problems you haven’t dealt with in a couple of months.

You are sure it is an exacerbation of your MS, but you are dumb-founded as to the cause. The questions begin as to whether you should call your neurologist and if you will have to go on steroid therapy. You are emotionally crushed that this has happen seemingly out of the blue, and you decide you will take a nap and then call your neurologist.

When you wake up, low and behold you are feeling better. Now you are really confused and wonder to yourself what is going on. You soon learn, this is what a pseudo exacerbation feels like.

When the body temperature rises, it slows nerve conduction and old MS symptoms flare up. That is one of the key identifying marks of heat related flare-ups, it involves old MS symptoms. Another identifying factor is that with rest and cooling the old symptoms go back into the closet, as it were.

Back to our extension cord analogy, those frayed spots that cause either too much electricity to surge through the cord or not enough, is the central nervous system under exposure to too much heat. Either your bodies overwork themselves, or don’t work efficiently enough. Either way, it causes the return of old symptoms and problems. Jiggling the central nervous system occurs when you cool off and rest. It is like finding just the right spot for the body to work correctly and the juice to flow freely once again.

This knowledge can be of great help to the average person with MS. Finding your heat tolerance level and staying within it will prevent pseudo flare-ups from occurring. If you cannot avoid raising your body temperature above tolerable levels, work to cool off and rest as soon as possible, thereafter, so that the flare-up will subside more quickly. By concentrating on knowing your limits you can still enjoy the hazy, hot, and humid days of summer with your family and friends. You may have to do so in measured doses, but it beats the alternative of not being able to enjoy any outdoor activities at all.