Posted by: Thixia | July 8, 2008

Temperature and MS


A rise in temperature does not affect everyone with multiple sclerosis (MS), but it is common for people with MS to find that at least some of their symptoms get worse when they get hotter – “everything goes haywire” is how one person with MS describes it.   Different symptoms get worse in different individuals, and any symptoms can be affected. 


Effects happen as soon as the body temperature changes, but for the vast majority of people symptoms return to normal as soon as the body cools.   The temperature effect is often described as Uhthoff’s phenomenon, after Dr.  Wilhelm Uhthoff who first described it in 1890. 


The worsening of symptoms due to heat is widely recognised and very common.  People generally complain of blurred vision or sensory systems after exercise or of weakness in one or both legs.  Many people with MS report that heat can adversely affect any of their symptoms.  This may be due in part to the fatigue that can result from prolonged exposure to high temperatures but no long term harm is believed to come from body warming, even if the consequences of warming can sometimes appear to be severe at the time and symptoms usually return to their existing levels as the body cools down. 


Heat or exercise related symptoms may be brought on by activity, sunbathing, hot baths, emotion, exercise, fever, or other things associated with an increase in body temperature.  Many people with MS find hot weather difficult, but, even in cooler weather, hot showers, or even just using a hair dryer can sometimes be a problem. 


Fact Sheet


Feeling the heat


Heat appears to stop nerve fibres from working properly – if the fibres or their protective outer layer (myelin) have already been damaged by MS.  The nerve fibres allow messages to be passed between different parts of the body to the brain and spinal cord, in the form of electrical impulses.  This is known as ‘nerve conduction’.  A damaged nerve finds it harder to conduct these electrical impulses – messages may get through at normal temperatures, but they are on the verge of failure.  Body warming makes conduction weaker still, so some damaged nerve fibres stop working entirely, until they are cooled down. 


This is why symptoms may improve after cooling.  It is important to be aware of your baseline temperature.  A ‘normal’ temperature is around 37 degrees, but ‘normal’ for you may be within a few degrees of this either way.  Anything beyond your baseline temperature may affect your symptoms.  You may want to invest in a thermometer to check.  It is important to also listen to your body and take measures to cool down if you are feeling overheated.  Various cooling methods have been developed, but some are simple and cheap, such as:


  • ­      drinking cold liquids
  • ­      sucking ice cubes
  • ­      cool baths (start with warm or tepid water and increase the coldness to avoid a shockingly cold experience)
  • ­      opening a window or sitting in front of a fan. 


Cooling Therapy is a complementary treatment that is unique to MS.  Some people use body-cooling garments – often in the form of ‘cooling vests’.  These can be passive or active.  Passive garments use evaporation or ice packs for cooling: active garments use circulating coolants.  Beneficial effects of cooling garments have been noted in several small clinical studies, and their use is usually well tolerated.  Before buying anything you may want to talk to your MS nurse.  You may be able to try out several garments before deciding. 


If on holiday in warmer temperatures participating in outdoor events, there are several things you can do to keep your cool:


  • ­      avoid hot environments like kitchens or very sunny rooms
  • ­      avoid long car trips where possible or use the air conditioner
  • ­      wear light-coloured, cotton clothing
  • ­      keep your head covered
  • ­      avoid direct sunlight
  • ­      look for air-conditioned places
  • ­      increase your fluid intake
  • ­      keep a hand-held mini-fan in your bag
  • ­      moisten clothing using a water spray
  • ­      Cooling down sports sweat bands dipped in cold water and put on both wrists
  • ­      explore clothing with ‘wicking’ properties which ‘wicks’ moisture away from the skin and can help to keep temperatures stable.   


  1. I am confused. I have a bigger problem with cold than I do with heat. Cold water hurts my legs and my feet hurt much more in the winter than in the summer. I do get more fatigued from the heat but it isn’t the same. thoughts?

  2. I have talked to several people with your same problem. So this is not unusual. Many have been helped by the injectable therapies. These therapies do not all work in the same mannor for everyone. You may have to try one for about 6 months to a year and then try another one. Unfortunately, it may be trial and error. But, as rule it this is not the case. Talk to you doctor and neurologist. I know that is very uncomfortable. I have one large area on my leg that is very uncomfortable in cold weather. Nothing helps it. I use Copaxone. This is caused by the nerves. The nerves cause strange things to happen.

  3. Not everyone has a problem with cold. Yes, most people with MS have difficulty with heat. But, there are definetly some who have a problem with cold. There is not too much that can be done about it, except avoidance. I wish I could help you more. I have one leg that is really bothered by the cold. My neurologist has discovered that I am more sensitive to needle pricks in that leg. No help though.

  4. I can really suffer with the heat but once I have cooled down with cold water I go back to normal. I’m worried about going on holiday though!!

  5. Buy some small, soft ice packs that will fit into your pockets. Put one or two into your pockets when you are outside. These will keep you cool. Another thing that you can do is carry a fanny pack with an ice pack in it and place one of your hands on the ice pack to help cool you off, when needed . Keep a second ice pack in your cooler at all times.

    Come on all you with with MS out there please let us know what you do to keep cool during the heat of the summer. Make a comment.

  6. Usually your neurologist recommends another round of steroids within a year of the first injections. There are many other types of medications that can be used for treating MS. Check them out on this blog.

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