trees and street covered in snow

How Cold Weather Affects Multiple Sclerosis

The most common weather correlation in Multiple Sclerosis is to heat. Before modern medicine, you’d get plunked in a bathtub with hot water to see if your symptoms increased. If they did, you’d get a diagnosis of MS. 

Thankfully we don’t do that anymore. 

Yes, the cold does decrease our heat related symptoms, but just because cold weather isn’t talked about as much, doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us MSers. Cold weather can be just as bothersome, just in different ways. 

How Cold Affects MS

Some individuals are bothered by temperature extremes, potentially due to impaired function of the autonomic and endocrine system, which results in difficulty regulating body temperature. Also, body temperature fluctuations could occur due to the part of the brain that regulates body temperature being damaged. 

There many symptoms that can be aggravated by the cold, but a few are more common, specifically pain, spasticity, stiffness and cramping. As well as the issues mentioned above, cold can also alter nerve and muscle functionality. Our nerve signals are already a bit behind, and the cold can slow the communication down even more. Often the end result is difficulty with mobility (walking or dexterity), spasticity and pain. 

I also asked my readers how they feel about the cold and many agreed it makes their symptoms worse. Many talked about stiff muscles and spasticity, poor circulation and increases in headaches.

woman standing in the woods admiring snowfall

What you can do:

Warm up from the inside: My neurologist told me years ago that the best way to cool down quickly was to drink ice water, since I’m warming up from the inside. Same idea applies with drinking warm beverages. 

Move: It’s hard to find the motivation to get moving when it’s freezing outside I know, but regularly moving your body will help to reduce stiffness, improve circulation (warm up your hands and feet) and generate heat. 

Mind your hands and feet: Layers are important, but especially for your hands and feet. Wool socks and hand warmers are my friend! 

Accessories: Heating pads, electric blankets, microwavable neck wraps.. Indulge in any and every that helps! I’ll also put warm mugs here too, I’ve been known to microwave hot water just to hold it.

Conclusion

Cold weather can affect multiple sclerosis symptoms just as much as heat can, just in different ways. Thankfully, as with heat, there are things we can do in our lives that can improve our relationship with the cold.