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What to Do When Cold Weather Worsens MS Symptoms

Cold weather aggravates fatigue and spasticity for some with MS, but that doesn’t mean you have to hibernate all winter.

Overheating during hot weather or in a hot bath is known to magnify symptoms in many people with MS.

But for some, cold weather can be just as problematic. No one knows this better than Barbara Appelbaum, a 54-year-old motivational speaker, author, and wellness coach who lives in Chicago and faces its unrelenting winters every year.

“When the seasons change and it gets really cold — not normal cold, but bitter cold — I get increased fatigue and also experience occasional shooting pains, primarily in my feet,” says Appelbaum.

It’s not really known why cold weather can worsen symptoms in people with MS, but Kathleen Costello, a certified multiple sclerosis nurse at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and vice president of healthcare access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says it could be due to disruption of pathways in the brain and spinal cord.

She says some people experience greater bladder urgency and, most commonly, spasticity — stiffness and involuntary muscle spasms — in cold weather. It's important for people to track their symptoms, says Costello. And if your symptoms change when the weather changes, it’s a good idea to let your physician know.

“It could be a general worsening of symptoms, it could be the temperature change, and it could be lack of mobility,” Costello says. “You may not be getting enough exercise and movement in general.”

Changing MS Medications Might Help

When Appelbaum was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago, she took Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) and noticed her body had a difficult time acclimating to weather changes.

Several years ago, she switched to Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), which she says reduced her seasonal symptom flares.

“Since being on Tecfidera, it’s not as bad,” she says. “My body might be stronger, or it may be a medication thing.”

Costello notes that some people may notice fewer symptoms on different medications — probably because the medication is working better overall and reducing inflammation.

Drugs to Treat Spasticity

Another option for dealing with cold-weather symptoms is to try a medication that addresses the symptoms you’re experiencing.

For spasticity, the muscle relaxers baclofen and Zanaflex (tizanidine) can help control spasms and relax tightened muscles.

Drugs less commonly used to reduce spasticity include Valium (diazepam); phenol, an injected nerve blocker; Botox; and dantrolene.

Costello says you shouldn’t use these drugs “willy nilly”: You should be carefully evaluated by a physician before making a decision on whether and how to take them. Most of these medications produce side effects, such as drowsiness, muscle weakness, and dry mouth. Zanaflex may also lower blood pressure.

Home Remedies for Dealing With Cold Weather    

You may be able to ease your winter symptom flares without adding a drug to your regimen.

Stretching and doing yoga can be beneficial for increasing mobility and reducing muscle stiffness. Appelbaum practices restorative yoga, which she says allows her to warm up her body without overheating — enabling her to avoid the dizziness and weakness she experiences when her body temperature is too high.

Appelbaum also wears lots of layers, both to stay warm and so that she can quickly remove a layer if she begins to get too hot.

And she drinks warm drinks like hot tea in the winter, both to warm up internally and to keep her hands warm.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by EVERYDAYHEALTH
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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