Weather and Multiple Sclerosis - Cold & Hot

January, my favorite time of the year. See, I grew up in Southern California which feels like every year gets just a little hotter. I mean, it was always warm but I don’t remember seeing 115 degrees (Fahrenheit) on the thermometer 10 years ago! Now this is the norm, it’s what we expect come summer. I never really enjoyed it but after my Multiple Sclerosis (MS) had progressed a little the heat became my arch nemesis. It makes all my symptoms worse almost immediately, like upon entering the heat something in my brain just decides to turn the “how bad is today going to suck” knob all the way up to 11. If I spend too long in the heat I might even be pushed into a relapse, as in, not just a flare of old/current symptoms but the occurrence of new symptoms! I hate the heat! The heat is bad! BUT! It was not long before I realized there is a percentage of people with MS who feel better in warm temperatures but are destroyed by the cold (despite the fact that generally, it is accepted that heat is bad for MS)!

What the heat does to some, the cold does to others

At first it was hard for me to understand. It was like being told that a cold glass of water burns someone’s skin but a pot of molten metal feels soothing to them! And that is coming from someone who has experienced a slight inversion of temperature sensations (cold water felt hot and hot water felt… like nothing really). But I always seemed to talk to someone new who described cold affecting them the same way that I say the heat affects me! So I started taking these claims more seriously and eventually (ironically) I developed something called “Raynaud’s Phenomena” where smaller arteries (especially those that supply blood to the hands and feet) experience excessive constricting in response to cold. This limits how much blood can get to body parts like the hands and feet causing them to feel really cold, even painful because that blood that can’t get to your extremities? That is what is supposed to help keep them warm. Bit of a catch-22 right?

Cold weather used to make me feel great

Anyway, I am getting off track, my point is this; I hate the heat but love the cold. The cold makes me feel great! But then it was like MS said, “no, no, no – no breaks for you!” because now my hands (primarily) can feel so cold it becomes extremely painful! The first time I experienced this I really thought I was somehow getting frostbite but when I talked to my neurologist he told me about Raynaud’s Phenomena which apparently is somewhat common in MS.

Even still, I soon moved to Colorado because I needed to experience “a world” that saw temperatures below 60 during the day. The heat really depresses me, as in actual “I can’t get out of bed” depression and I had to know that it was possible to not live that way. Well, turns out it is, I loved it out there! 30 degrees, snowing and I would be on my porch in jeans and a t-shirt drinking coffee. This was where I belonged! After a while though, I noticed that the cold definitely made my spasticity worse in my legs making walking a little more difficult but even with that (in addition to Raynaud’s) all I needed to do was make sure that I dressed accordingly. I just needed really nice gloves and something to keep just my legs warm while not affecting my torso.

So I get it, I understand how the cold can really affect people with MS. Heat might directly cause inflammation which directly affects the course/behavior of the disease but if cold weather is causing you horrible and painful symptoms? I imagine that would cause a great deal of stress, which causes inflammation, which directly affects MS… However, I personally would still take sub zero over 110+ degrees as I figure I can always layer up to stay warm but I can only take so much off to try to stay cool. I mean, it’s not like I can peel my skin off!

So what is clear to me is that whether it is extreme heat or extreme cold that affects your MS the keyword is “extreme”. It’s like our MS bodies just can’t handle too much of one or the other and as people with MS always say? We are all different. What works for one person might not work for another. What affects one person one way may not affect another person the same way. We are all different. Some of us do better in the cold, some of us do better in the heat and some of us just have to have that “sweet spot” in the middle; not too hot, not too cold but juuust riiight.

How does the weather affect your MS? Do you prefer the heat or the cold? Oh and by the way, I had to move back to California but it had nothing to do with the weather! I miss it every day!

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