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How to Stay Cool With MS

“My number one tip for MS patients is to precool before going out on a warm day.” (ISTOCKPHOTO)

It’s summertime, and that means backyard barbecues, relaxing on the beach or by the pool, enjoying outdoor sports, catching a few rays and taking walks through the countryside. For most folks, activities like these are tons of fun. But if you’re one of the 400,000 Americans with MS, hot and steamy days can be a time of heat-related health challenges.

When you have MS, your autoimmune system kicks into overdrive and attacks the covering of the nerve fibers (myelin sheath) running through the brain and spinal cord. This can cause problems in other parts of the body, among them: vision issues, muscle spasticity, brain fog, extreme fatigue – and heat sensitivity.

Excuse the phrase, but getting overheated is a hot button issue for MS sufferers. In a study published in 2011 in the journal Bio Med Central Neurology, Swedish researchers found that more than 70 percent of 256 MS sufferers experienced some sort of heat sensitivity. The study also pointed to the most common symptoms of overheating: fatigue, difficulty concentrating, pain and visual blurriness.

Dr. Anjali Shah, a physiatrist at UT Southwestern Medical Center's Clinical Center for Multiple Sclerosis in Dallas, explains how it boils down. “Usually whatever symptom a patient is dealing with will worsen when their body is overheating. And it doesn’t take much. Just a slight elevation in core body temperature, as little as one-quarter degree, can have a negative effect.”

What happens? “An elevated temperature heightens the inability of the myelin-covered nerves to conduct correct electrical impulses,” Shah says. “Healthy bodies cool down on their own because their hypothalamus regulates core body temperature. But with MS, signals to the hypothalamus can misfire and when that happens the brain won’t let the body know it’s supposed to chill out.”

Another contributing factor to higher core body temperature is faulty sweating. Researchers found that sweating takes longer to start and the sweat rate is lower when MS patients are exercising compared to healthy control subjects. The findings were presented at the 2014 meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

The good news? “Symptoms are only temporarily heightened – usually for less than 24 hours. And the overheating won’t cause a relapse,” says Dr. Ausim Auzizi, professor of neurology at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. “That’s because it’s unlikely that getting overheated will cause new or more damage to the nerves themselves or lead to permanent brain lesions.”

It doesn’t mean the potential for overheating should be overlooked or taken lightly; it can still stop patients in their tracks, make them feel sick and keep them from participating in enjoyable activities. But there are simple ways to avoid overheating. “My number one tip for MS patients is to precool before going out on a warm day,” Shah says. “Ideally, they can take a cool bath or shower for at least 30 minutes. Studies show precooling works to maintain lower core body temperature even during exercise.”

Here are more of Shah’s tips:

  • Stay indoors in AC comfort when the heat is at its highest (between 10 a.m.and 3 p.m.). Try to get errands done early in the morning and evening. If you can’t help being outside, sit in the shade and avoid strenuous activity during the time of peak sunlight.
  • Avoid cooking large meals, and use vents and/or ceiling fans in the kitchen during summer months. While you’re at it, consider cooler meals that require shorter cooking time.
  • Only exercise in environments with AC; put fans close to your workout space, and keep plenty of water handy.
  • Invest in protective clothing. It offers moisture management by pulling perspiration off the body to help with evaporation (which cools the body). On the clothing front, choose light-colored natural fabrics that are airy and reflect the sun’s rays. Dark fabrics absorb the heat of the sun.
  • If you’re swimming, make sure the pool isn’t heated. The temperature of the water should be 85 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • For quick relief, hold ice cubes, ice packs or anything frozen against your wrists, the back of your neck or the top of your head. This will offer quick relief, though it might not bring down core temperature.
  • Opt for cooling devices. There are cooling vests, wristbands and even bra inserts. Research shows these items are effective in helping to keep core body temperatures down.
  • Carry an ice cooler in your car. Just 8 ounces of ice water can make a difference. Also consider packing natural juice popsicles and frozen bite-sized pieces of fruit such as pineapple chunks, blueberries, grapes and even banana slices.
  • Consider investing in a misting fan. Though pricey (between $200 to as high $700), it can lower outdoor temperature by as much as 20 degrees, so your core temperature is less likely to rise. It’s a win-win because if it’s hot and you’re not in the direct sunlight, a misting fan can allow you to sit on a patio, deck or even poolside without contributing to overheating.

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


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