This article is a guest post submitted by Dr. Usman Ali, MD, from Chicago, IL. His wife has been living with MS since the last 5 years and has been in touch with the Society.
Multiple Sclerosis: Warm Climate or Cold
Patients who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) have severe symptoms in warm weather, although, it is also a fact that many MS patients suffer in winter as much as they suffer in warm climate. Since MS lesions can occur in an individual’s brain or spine, the symptoms can be different from person to person. Some people may feel better during summer and some in winter.
Warm Climate & MS
For many MS patients, summer takes away most of the fun activities, vacations and beach parties as they cannot tolerate the heat. For them summer brings nothing but severe MS symptoms. During the warmer climate, many MS patients also encounter cognitive difficulties, which affect their thinking abilities including reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment and learning of complex scientific concepts. As Dr. Lily Jung Henson, director of neurology at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center said, “We know that patients with MS do poorly with heat, presumably from dysfunctional nerve conduction associated with scarring, cognitive difficulty is just another manifestation of MS.” While most of the people are outside enjoying the warm weather, people with MS are left with no choice but to stay at home and clean out closets or for entertainment, watch TV shows or read novels.
Some of the symptoms that may occur during warm climate include numbness in upper/lower extremities, weakness, blurred vision, tremors and decreased cognitive function.
Winter & MS
While many folks feel relieved as winter arrives, others may not feel comfortable as winter may mean more symptoms for them including spasticity, fatigue and joint pain. The best way to keep your symptoms away in cold weather is to cover up with jackets, sweaters, socks or even using heating pads may also help.
Personal Experience & MS
My wife has MS since last five years. Her symptoms mostly aggravate during winter. Her first MS episode was in December 2009 when her vision started to blur, thanks God for new research and technologies, it was so not difficult to evaluate her symptoms. She was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). Her first treatment choice was Avonex (Interferon beta-1a) because it was to be injected once a week, it left her knocked down for good 8 hours. Later, in 2010 November, her new symptom affected her lower extremities including lower back and numbness in left leg. Her Neurologists decided to stop her medicine as it did not show any improvement, but worsening of her symptoms. She was treated with IV steroids which reduced the severity of her symptoms.
For the next two years she was blessed with no new symptoms at all, although her residual symptoms from previous episodes were persistent. As we relocated to Chicago IL, she began to feel tightening of muscles in upper and lower extremities which further progressed and involved her back muscles. We thought the pain was due to severe cold weather in Chicago. One day she moaned with severe pain and called on to me to pick her up as she was unable to stand by herself. Yes! it was her MS symptom, spasticity, which affected her right arm and right leg. The episodes came very frequently, everyday she had about 4-6 partial paralytic attacks due to muscle spasticity, which would leave her paralyzed for few seconds with severe pain in her right side of the body. Taking her to the emergency room was the only choice we had where her MRI was done; it showed new lesions in her upper thoracic spine. After receiving five-day IV steroids, she left the hospital with Copaxone 20mg (glatiramer acetate injection). Since then, her spasticity symptoms continued, although the severity and the frequency of her paralytic episodes were reduced.
As mentioned, MS symptoms may vary from person to person, and every patients’ symptoms have a different response to weather conditions. Although, research data emphasizes that symptoms get worst during the warm climate but every patients’ body responses in a different way to the weather condition. MS patient needs to determine which weather conditions alleviate their symptoms. It is very important for patients with MS to have high self-esteem and they need to remain positive. Although, MS has no cure yet! But new treatments are very promising.
List of new MS drugs
2. Fingolimod (Gilenya)
3. Teriflunomide (Aubagio)
1. “For MS Patients, Memory Melts in Warm Weather” by Crystal Phend, May 20th, 2013.
Written and submitted by:
By Dr. Usman Ali, MD
Kabir Medical College, Peshawar, Pakistan
Clinical Extern, Chicago, IL