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Fighting the MS Cold

Fighting the MS Cold

Catching a cold is no fun for anybody. But when you live with MS, it can really be disruptive. Just a few days ago, I succumbed to the common cold that has been making the rounds.
One of the first things I noticed, even before the cold really set in, was that my legs were feeling heavy and my body was all a-buzz. My legs are still heavy and about half of my skin is still doing the jumping bean dance just under the surface.

Symptoms flaring up

Next to settle in was the increased spasticity. As my body temperature rose slightly, my ever-present MS symptoms grew to an un-ignorable level. For the last two days, the pain, tightness, achiness, and heaviness has been keeping me from wanting to do much. I actually went back to bed yesterday in the middle of the day to try to shake it off.

Then this morning, I was feeling particularly whiny….and that’s when it hit me. I was experiencing what others have described as a “man cold.” No longer was I the self-sufficient, strong, determined person that I usually am regardless of the challenge ahead. I had become a sniffling, stuffy, stay under the covers, only able breathe through maybe 1/3 of one nostril, moaning pile of flesh and bones.

All joking aside. Catching a cold when you have MS can really put you down for a while. Old symptoms return, current symptoms get worse, and you generally feel like a pile of…well…the gunk that you keep trying to unsuccessfully blow out of your nose.

Is it a cold or a relapse?

This temporarily increased amount of symptoms is called a pseudoexacerbation. It feels like a relapse, but symptoms will typically return to “normal” once you’re over being sick. Probably what I hate the most about my “MS cold” is that it turns my brain into sluggish mush, too. I can’t quite think clearly and I usually lose most motivation to get things done, even simple things.

The good thing about a pseudoexacerbation is that you know it will eventually pass. You may feel like crap, but you will survive. Whenever I feel like this, I try to remember to take something to bring my body temperature down. For me, that is a common OTC medication.

Knowing the underlying cause

If I begin to feel all of the above symptoms, but I definitely don’t have a cold, I start to suspect a different underlying cause. Frequently that cause may be something like a urinary tract infection, overexertion, or exposure to heat.

There have been times when I seem to lose the ability to think clearly and start to feel frustrated that I need to figure out what’s going on. Surprisingly, it often takes a while before I think to go check the thermostat in the house. When the heat has kicked on and the temps outside grow, I need to make sure that I can keep my body cooler. More often than not, just a couple of degrees can make a huge difference in how I feel and function.

Fighting the cold with vitamins, rest, fluids, and good food

But for now, I just need to drink lots and lots of fluids, stay warm, and attempt to keep from becoming a whimpering mess while I surreptitiously fight the cold with vitamins, rest, fluids, and good food.

So the next time you come down with a virus, try not to be hard on yourself. Although it’s not as socially understandable as a man cold, an “MS cold” can literally make it hard to function, physically and mentally.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Imascatterbrain
    3 years ago

    Thanks for posting this! Before MS I hardly ever got sick, “nobody,” in my family did. But now I get these epic colds every couple years, and each time I’m baffled by how horrible and unendurable it seems.

    Easy to be baffled when it takes a while to realize I have a very high fever – the first time I got this cold I thought it was a hangover from just 2 glasses of wine – but it lasted for THREE DAYS. Was it kidney failure? What day is today? Did I need an emergency room? Bonus stumbling around and dropping things seemed like a super-creepy symptom, something terrible might happen if I fell back asleep!

    One year I had some BRILLIANT chewable zinc at the first “signs,” of a cold, but if one sign is exactly like cog-fog… how would I know?

    Yeah, I’m having this cold right now (this post has taken over an hour), and your comment about the thermostat was a blessing; I don’t have any control here except opening a window, but now I do feel better…
    …plus so MUCH more at ease to realize I’m not alone here in this asylum!

  • Jerry
    3 years ago

    This is serendipity! I’m fighting a cold too and honestly wondered if I was having a relapse simultaneously. The fatigue is about as bad as it’s ever been. After reading your post, I feel a sense of reassurance. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Jerry,
    I’m sorry that you are sick right now. The fatigue that comes with a “simple” cold can be surprising. I hope you begin to feel better soon!

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