MS & Uhthoff’s Phenomenon: Coping with Heat Sensitivity

Multiple Sclerosis and Heat Sensitivity Can Be a Deeply Uncomfortable Combination. Willeke Van Eeckhoutte Shares Her Top Tips for Coping with Uhthoff’s Phenomenon

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Willeke Van Eeckhoutte

Heat sensitivity affects up to 4 out of every 5 people living with MS, one of whom is Willeke Van Eeckhoutte. She tells us what unusual item you should put in your freezer and other top tips for dealing with Uhthoff’s Phenomenon.

A guest post by Willeke Van Eeckhoutte

There it is again.

Uhthoff’s Phenomenon (also known as Uhthoff’s syndrome, symptom, or sign).

And here I am.

Lying on the floor of the house, trying to find the coldest place where I can find some peace from the burning sun.

Uhthoff’s Phenomenon During a Heatwave

If you have multiple sclerosis, you might feel increased sensations that are quite annoying and have no set time frame. Similarly, you might feel like your energy levels drain twice as fast without you even moving an inch.

Heat sensitivity does all the above.

Oh, the joys of warm days and sadness of not having any ice cream in the freezer.

Summer in Ireland is usually a modest affair, one where it could last from one day to a week.

However, forty days without rain this year has left us rather like pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Fried. Fried indeed, since a heatwave has been keeping us company for ten weeks, if not longer.

But, how does warm weather impact multiple sclerosis?

Not to be Mistaken for a Relapse

60% to 80% of people with MS will, at some stage, experience heat sensitivity issues. Once you know what to look out for, Uhthoff’s Phenomenon can be easily managed.

Some people with MS do well in summer and feel awful in cold weather. Others can handle winter but struggle to deal with the heat. As you guessed, I fall into the latter group. In fact, lots of people have issues with warm weather, neurologically challenged or not.

In those with MS, however, even a slight raise in the body’s core temperature of 0.25°C to 0.5°C can set off existing symptoms you would rather not have during warm, summer days.

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Nerve transmission requires more energy in warmer temperatures, and when there’s demyelination – depending on the location and severity of nerve damage in your body – existing symptoms might show up or new ones might appear.

While you might feel like your MS relapsed, a flare-up caused by something other than medical issues is called a pseudo-relapse, and it will not cause new nerve damage. Uhthoff’s Phenomenon should disappear as quickly as it arrived.

It’s not just warm days that can kickstart Uhthoff’s Phenomenon, but physical exercises, a hot shower, cooking in front or over a hot stove, eating hot food, hairdryers, hormonal changes, or entering places where the temperature is higher than you can withstand. These are just a few examples.

You might feel like your energy levels went from hero to zero, zapped from you in less than five seconds. Your arms and legs suddenly feel 100 kilograms each, you experience blurry vision, neuropathic pain, dizziness, worsening numbness, and you might feel as if you’re going to faint.

Tips for Dealing with Uhthoff’s Phenomenon

How to avoid heat sensitivity boils down to common sense.

Seeking out cooler temperatures by sitting in the shade, avoiding showers that are too hot (or too cold – keep reading to find out why), and dressing up in layers are just a few of the things you can do.

Putting towels in the freezer or using normal medical ice packs you can buy in your pharmacy are also excellent ideas. I prefer the first method as the towels stay cooler for longer once you take them out of the freezer.

The ways of how to handle heat sensitivity are plenty, but if you do plan on sitting in the sun, don’t forget to wear sun block, especially if you take certain medicines.

☀️ Willeke’s Top 5 Tips ☀️

  • Search for the shade
  • Moderate the temperature of your shower
  • Dress in layers
  • Put your towel in the freezer
  • Don’t forget your sun block

Cold showers will definitely wake you up and help with stress and depression. However, colder showers also increase your blood flow and will therefore warm you up quickly once you get out.

According to The Conversation, “We feel cooler because of the combination of the cold water and the decreased blood flow to the skin, but in fact our core will get warmer because of reduced heat loss from the body without skin blood flow.

“Some minutes later, we feel hot again. But a warm sensation on the skin will lead to increased blood flow to the skin, increasing heat loss from the body.

“So, keeping cool in summer will be more effective with a warm shower (water temperature about 33⁰C) rather than a cold shower (water temperature 20-25⁰C).

“It will seem warm initially but, after a few minutes, will provide better comfort in the long term.”

Now that you know what to look out for, do remember that some preparation in advance goes a long way in tackling Uhthoff’s Phenomenon.

Enjoy the fun, and the sun!

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