Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

What to Do When Cold Weather Worsens MS Symptoms

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

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

RELATED: How to Spot the Signs of an MS Flare

“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 hot tea in the winter, both to warm up internally and to keep her hands warm.

If you drive, preheating the car before setting out can make a big difference if you’re sensitive to the cold. In her last car, Appelbaum opted for a heated steering wheel that keeps her hands warm while driving. If you’re not in the market for a new car, you can find a variety of heated steering wheel covers for purchase online.

Getting enough rest is also helpful if the cold makes you fatigued.

“When I'm super-exhausted, I give in and take a nap,” Appelbaum says. “Fighting it is fighting city hall: It just doesn’t work.”


Brrrrr…Our 10 top tips for dealing with the cold

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

It feels a little that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) are stuck between a rock and hard place when it comes to the weather. After the extremely hot summer we’ve just experienced, many people had issues with the heat, and now winter is just around the corner bringing problems and anxieties of its own.

MS symptoms can be exacerbated as the temperature drops. It is not known exactly why the cold has a negative effect on people with MS symptoms. Some of the symptoms that can be exacerbated by the cold weather are:

  • Increased stiffness and issues with spasticity
  • Higher fatigue levels
  • Increased and unpredictable bladder urgency
  • A worsening of perceived pain
  • Problems with sensory issues, particularly in the extremities

One additional issue may be the shorter days and not being exposed to as much direct sunlight, therefore not getting as much natural vitamin D as in summer months. The lack of sunlight, the shortening of the days and the difficulties getting out and about can also be contributing factors towards negative mental health with potentially worsening anxiety and depression.

many other aspects of living with MS, a little planning and forethought can go a long way when coping with activities in the winter.

Top tips…

  1. If your spasticity and stiffness increases in the cold, it is worth speaking to your MS team. There may be medications that you can take or if you are already using drugs the clinicians may suggest changes to dosage. There are also things you can do at home to help with stiffness, stretching exercises, yoga or Pilates
  2. Wear layers. The thermal insulation of layers can make sure your core stays warm. We suggest choosing easy to remove clothes, as if you begin to overheated you can shed a layer or two.
  3. Make sure all your equipment and aids are well serviced and ready for the winter. Whether that is a car, a mobility scooter or walking aids, it is a good idea to get them checked out. This may involve lubricating moving parts, checking tyre pressures and ensuring brakes are up to the job. Some people even choose to switch their walking sticks over for Nordic walking poles or something similar with a wider ground surface area. You can also buy ‘ice tips’ to customise your existing walking aid
  4. Drink plenty of hot drinks. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate or whichever is your drink of choice can help you stay warm from the inside, warming your core quickly. It can also help keep your fingers and hands warm whilst you cradle your favourite mug
  5. Keeping your hands and feet warm is really important. Some people with MS have sensory issues or also have a condition called Raynaud's phenomenon, in which the extremities (particularly the fingers and toes) are affected by the cold. Fingers and toes can become bluish looking and be very painful. It is a good idea to plan ahead and get some good thermal socks and gloves and consider keeping your warm socks on even whilst at home. You can also purchase hand warmers of various kinds from outdoor stores
  6. Consider increasing your uptake of vitamin D and make the most of what little sunshine there is. Try to go outside as close to midday as you can and expose as much of your skin as is possible (given the cold!) to the sun. Not only will this help your vitamin D levels but being outside and enjoying the autumnal colours or crisp Jack Frost touched plants will ly be good for your mental health too. If you feel you need to increase your Vitamin D supplements during the winter it is worth reading our Choices leaflet on the subject and speaking to your MS team
  7. Plan for adverse weather. If you have a care package you can speak with your care manager to ensure you have an understanding of any kind of contingencies or emergency plans that are in place in case of adverse weather conditions. It is a good idea to contact your local Adult Social Care department to find out if there are any special plans in place for extreme weather in your area. If you have a family carer or have caring responsibilities yourself, it would be a good idea to get an updated ‘carers emergency plan’ (usually part of a carers assessment)
  8. If you rely on meal on wheels or home delivered meals it is a good idea to do some contingency planning for the possibility that a delivery will not get through. It is always a good idea to have some tins of soup or other non-perishable foods in the cupboards. If you have room in your freezer it is worth making sure there are a few easy meals stored away in there too
  9. Be mindful of colds and your health. If you feel you are becoming poorly, speak to your pharmacist or GP as early intervention is best for managing health. Remember that you are entitled to the flu vaccine from the NHS. You can get this at your GP practice or your local pharmacist
  10. The UK government have produced a leaflet called ‘Keep warm, keep well’ specifically aimed at older and disabled people which is full of useful information about the winter fuel payment, the cold weather payment, the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), the warm home discount scheme and other sources of financial help. The Energy Saving Trust has good advice on how to lower your bills and make your property more energy efficient. They can also advise on grants and schemes available around the UK. They have a helpline you can call on 0300 123 1234

If you want to chat about any aspects of living with multiple sclerosis, the MS-UK Helpline team are here to help. Just call us on 0800 783 0518, email us or use our live web chat service to get in touch.


The Impact of Temperature on Multiple Sclerosis

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

  • Temperature and MS
  • Cold Winter Months
  • Cooling Vests

When you have MS, even a small rise in body temperature — about 0.5 degrees F — can make your symptoms worse. Lots of things can cause this, including warm weather, hot showers, a heavy meal, and exercise.

Heat-related symptoms aren’t harmful and go away as soon as you cool down. There are also many ways to chill out so heat is less ly to bother you.

MS damages the protective sheath around nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. This slows down nerve signals so your body doesn’t always respond the way it should. Heat can slow these signals even more.

MS can also affect the part of your brain that controls your body’s temperature. Symptoms fatigue, pain, and trouble thinking can flare up, making it hard to get things done.

Other symptoms can worsen, too, such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems with walking or balance, sometimes leading to falls
  • Trouble with your bowels or bladder
  • Trouble with focus and memory

You could run the AC all summer (not a budget- or earth-friendly option) and avoid the gym. But there are some much better solutions. Try these tips:

  1. Exercise safely. Exercise helps your balance, strength, mood, and overall health. But it can also raise your core temperature and briefly worsen symptoms. Here are some things to try:
    • If you exercise outdoors, go early in the morning or at night.
    • Don’t wear too many layers, even if it’s cold.
    • Swim in an unheated pool. (Swimming is great for so many reasons.)
    • Wear a cooling collar. You wrap this lightweight device around your neck a scarf. It cools you as the ice inside melts.
  2. Beware of your active wear. It’s hard to keep track of all the high-tech fabrics used in gym clothes these days. Do your homework before you buy. For example, moisture-wicking gear may keep you dry but also trap heat. Look for clothes and shoes with mesh panels.
  3. Wear loose-fitting clothes that breathe. Cotton, linen, and rayon allow air to move freely through the fabric so you stay cooler. They’re the closest thing to AC for your skin.
  1. Light with LEDs. Light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs put out a fraction of the heat of incandescent and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). They also last longer and use less energy.
  1. Pull the plug. Gadgets and devices create heat, even when you’re not using them. Unplug before you go to bed.
  1. Eat light. Instead of cooking heavy meals that heat up the house — and your body — opt for more salads and fresh fruit.
  1. Hydrate. Drink plenty of water. It helps prevent brain fog and fatigue, two common heat-related symptoms. Don’t worry about getting eight glasses a day. Use the pee test instead. If your urine’s clear or pale yellow, you’re drinking enough. If it’s darker in color, you need more H2O.
  1. Try ice and spice. Ice-cold nonalcoholic drinks (alcohol makes things worse), ice chips, and ice pops help you stay cool. Surprisingly, extra spicy food does, too.
  1. Find a fan. Fans help you feel cooler because they evaporate sweat. Be sure to place the fan so you catch the breeze; it’s only able to cool you, not the whole room.
  1. Check tech. You can buy all kinds of high-tech cooling gadgets — for a price. Look for cooling sheets, towels, pillowcases, and vests. Most cool you by wicking away sweat. They use gels or frozen cooling packs to do the job. These gadgets can cost hundreds of dollars, so do your homework first.


National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Heat & Temperature Sensitivity.”

UpToDate: “Manifestations of Multiple Sclerosis in Adults,” “Patient education: Multiple sclerosis in adults (The Basics).” “Heat Intolerance.”

Temperature: “Temperature sensitivity in multiple sclerosis: An overview of its impact on sensory and cognitive symptoms.” “13 Tactics to Beat the Heat,” “Hydration — What Do You Really Need?” “The Two Types of Exercise for People with MS,” “Water Exercise: A Cool (and Easy) Way to Exercise.” “LED Lighting.”

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Cold Winter Months


Blog – Wintery weather + multiple sclerosis = difficult times

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

Firstly, there’s the cold! While heat-related issues are far more common for most people living with MS, I’ve noticed a lot of people mentioning how cold weather affects their symptoms.

In fact, people have commented on my page about how their symptoms are particularly difficult in the cold. Spasticity, rigidity, pain and even depression were anecdotally reported to be increased during winter months for some people living with MS.

Getting around

I remember climbing a mountain in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands when I was a young Coast Guardsman – in my boat shoes. Today, over a decade after my MS diagnosis, the idea of a flat surface with the faintest bit of frost has me reaching for crampons and an ice axe! Many of us have difficulty walking as it is, without Jack Frost painting an ice rink out our front steps.

Uneven surfaces – even a simple flooring change – can be an issue even in a house that I know well. When piles and drifts of snow block my way, I really have to double think whether or not that trip outside is required.

Driving can also be difficult, and for disabled people who rely on public transport buses, the extra passengers using such vehicles, coupled with often reduced schedules, can make getting from point A to point B difficult at best and near impossible at worst.

The economy of cold weather can hit someone on a fixed income due to MS particularly hard as well.

Dealing with winter weather: top tips

Eight months ago we posted a blog on how to keep cool during your unseasonable hot weather. Now, this cold snap has us turning to the other end of the thermometer.

Whatever your symptoms and however they might increase or (here’s hoping) decrease in the cold, there a few tips for dealing with these winter outbursts:

  • Register with the appropriate medical or social needs registries.
  • If you travel in a wheelchair, wrap a small blanket around your legs (tucking it underneath yourself or around your sides) to help maintain body heat. You could also consider a waterproof quilt to help keep you snug.
  • If you receive home-based care, include caregivers in developing your cold weather plan and familiarise yourself with your homecare agency’s emergency plan.
  • If you have a pet or service animal, plan for their needs (remember, dogs also can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite). Get a dog coat to place under the harness, and consider getting boots for the paws. Also, have a dog blanket in your vehicle.
  • If you rely on home-delivered meals, always stock non-perishable food at home in case meal deliveries are suspended during an emergency.
  • Have a plan with your doctor that addresses emergency prescription refills, if possible.
  • If you rely on medical equipment that requires electric power, contact your medical supply company for information regarding a back-up power source such as a battery.
  • Take Your Time! Arriving late is better than arriving on time to the Emergency Department at your local hospital.

I’m sure many of you have hard-earned tips you can share for surviving the cold and snowy forecast – feel free to leave a comment.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.




Icy Cold Fingers: MS Broke My Thermostat!

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

It’s definitely autumn here in the Pacific Northwest. Misty, gray mornings give way to breezy sunshine in the afternoon … for a couple of hours anyway, until the evening rain arrives.

This is the time of year that the weather forecasters compete to see who can come up with the most creative ways to describe our damp and chilly climate.  It is also the time of year that I experience a change in my MS symptoms, relative to the cold weather.

This is very confusing for friends and family, who say to me, “…but I thought that you don’t the heat?!”

It is true that warmer temperatures aggravate my MS symptoms (I’ll save that post for sunnier days), but it is also true that cold temperatures cause other problems.

  You see, it’s not just my air conditioner or my heater that is broken … it’s the thermostat itself! I should be very clear here, this is my personal and non-scientifically proven theory.

No randomized, clinical trials were harmed in the making of this story.

Much the creative forecasters, I have an array of ways to describe my MS symptoms how cold and damp it is.  Solutions and strategies also vary accordingly. It looks this:

 MS Cold Weather and Symptom Forecast

  • Morning chills and moderate spasticity give way to mild spasticity as the day gets warmer. Turn up the heaters in the morning and drink some tea!
  • Cold nose and feet early in the day, changing to increased nerve pain in feet and legs by evening. Put on two pair of socks (thin cotton underneath and loose wool on top) and warm up the flax heating pad! Place a heating pad at the foot of the bed before tucking yourself in.
  • Burning nerve pain running from your right ear down your arm as you watch your son’s lacrosse game. Put on a wool hat that covers your ears and a warm scarf. Tuck some charcoal, air-activated hand warmers inside your mittens (mittens are better than gloves).
  • Mr. Raynaud will blow through mid-day.  Find a warm body and put your hands on them!  If that just isn’t a socially acceptable option, try running your frigid digits under warm water.

My poor children grew up with me sneaking up behind them to put my hands on the back of their neck and shoulders — they were so warm!  At some point I started saying, “Icy cold fingers of death!” when I grabbed them.  It’s weird, I know.  I don’t remember what started it, but it became a running joke.

As did my line, “These kids don’t need college funds … they can get scholarships.

Therapy funds are what they’ll need!”  I to think it’s their empathetic souls and not a fear of my icy hands that caused them to become experts at making me a cup of tea, getting the heating pad, and bringing me an extra blanket.

I did a bit of searching the interwebs and came up with this fact sheet from the British Multiple Sclerosis Society. Many articles focus more heavily on heat sensitivity, this one does a good job balancing the hot and cold (un my body).

  It has several useful tips for staying warm, my favorite of which is, “Storing a hot drink in a flask can help avoid repeated trips to the kettle.

”  Yes! God bless the Brits, save the Queen, and one hot toddy coming right up! That is what they mean, right?

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


7 Wintertime Tips to Help Manage Multiple Sclerosis

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

  • by  Teva's Lift MS® Team
  •   October 09, 2017

The cooler weather is slowly rolling in. While some look forward to the change in seasons, when you’re living with MS, the changing temperatures may affect your symptoms and affect your lifestyle.

Seasonal issues, such as worsening of symptoms, are commonly reported by those living with MS. The summer heat can spur a temporary worsening of symptoms, but there are different considerations as the cold sets in. For some, spasticity may be aggravated by extreme temperatures.

Others might have a hard time distinguishing cold from numbness, another common symptom of MS. Depression is another invisible symptom of MS that is sometimes felt seasonally.

As always, it’s important to reach out to your health care provider if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

This edition of Tips and Tricks is here to provide you with MS-focused ideas to help you get through the cold winter months. Leave a comment and let us know how you manage your MS in winter. We might feature your idea in a future video or blog post.

  1. Give yourself extra time. The roads and sidewalks might be icy. Plan extra time so you can move slowly to help avoid slips.
  2. Manage holiday stress. Holiday schedules can be demanding. Try these tips from one of Teva’s patient advocates Melissa to help cope with the stress of the season.
  3. Hand warmers. Doctors believe that MS can cause blood vessels in your hands and feet to overreact to the cold temperatures. Protect your hands, and your feet, from the cold with hand warmers.
  4. Bundle up. Depending on where you live, the weather might get very cold. Wear warm layers to avoid the chill. Also, pay attention to your body to understand if your numbness is a result of the cold or a worsening of your MS symptoms.
  5. Avoid overheating. Don’t overdo it when trying to stay warm. While a hot bath might sound nice, just a slight rise in body temperature could cause a temporary worsening of MS symptoms.
  6. Emergency car kit. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends creating a winter car kit so you’re prepared to handle your MS in case something unexpected happens.
  7. Track your symptoms. Make note of any seasonal changes you experience with your MS. It is important to keep your doctor aware of any changes in symptoms. Use these tips from Neurologist Dr. Pardo to make the most your next appointment.
  8. Give A Lift. Brighten the holidays by spreading joy and MS awareness. All you have to do is find a Lift you love and share it with your loved one. Search #GiveALift on , or Pinterest to see how others are getting involved.

If you’d to see more, check out our tips for your day-to-day life, ideas for everyday living and ways to cope with holiday stress with your Care Partner. You can always watch Tips & Tricks videos by visiting the Lift MS® page.

Let’s stick together! Register now to have posts sent to your inbox.

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Cold Weather and Multiple Sclerosis Changes

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope
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Overheating during hot weather or in a hot bath are the symptoms I know best with multiple sclerosis (MS). It's been known to magnify my symptoms and many others living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

But for some, cold weather can be just as bothersome.

Cold weather enhances fatigue and spasticity for some with MS, but that doesn’t mean you have to hibernate all winter, or so many say. When the seasons change and it gets really cold, not just the normal cold, but that bitter cold — I get increased fatigue and also experience occasional electric sensations primarily in my back, down my spine shooting through my limbs it feels. 

It’s not really known why cold weather can worsen symptoms in people with MS, but my neurologist Dr. Bagarva and many others at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore at the Center for Multiple Sclerosis, says it could be due to disruption of pathways in the brain and spinal cord. 

A General worsening of symptoms from extreme temperature changes, then causes a lack of mobility, All you want to do is hibernate and stay away from whatever causes your symptoms to get worst which means you may not be getting enough exercise and movement in general at that point.  My doctor is constantly talking about exercise and its in MS.

As a matter of fact I just joined a study a John Hopkins Center For Multiple Sclerosis to research the effects of exercise on MS patients…

which is probably the most consistent exercise I've ever done, But I definitely feel less fatigued in general after exercising so I will sticking with it for the next 12 weeks and hopefully can condition my body to regularly exercise after.

Luckily I haven't experienced other symptoms that can come along with cold weather and MS. 

For instance, some people find that cold weather can cause muscle cramping, stiffness, and tightness. It can also worsen the MS hug, which is the tightening feeling around the torso that is caused by spasticity of the tiny muscles between the ribs.

Others find they feel more fatigued in winter months myself. This could be an indirect result of coping with some of the muscle-related symptoms mentioned above or could also be that the shorter days and limited sunlight are making their depression worse—as you may know, depression is a common symptom of MS.

Still, others notice that the cold makes walking difficult, which could also be a result of muscle stiffness (worsening spasticity).

Did you know that new data is emerging all the time on the role of vitamin D in MS. Experts have discovered that low vitamin D plays a role in developing MS, but now it’s looking vitamin D levels also have an impact on relapses and the way we experience symptoms.

It’s been well established that vitamin D levels in people are lower in winter months due to less exposure to sunlight (which is necessary for the body to produce vitamin D). Perhaps we feel our MS symptoms more intensely when our vitamin D reserves are at their winter lows.

I have put together some tips to help minimize any MS-related discomfort you or a loved one may experience in cold weather.

Some people with MS also have a condition called Raynaud's phenomenon, in which the capillaries in your fingers and toes overreact in the cold.

As a result, the area under the fingernails and toenails turns blue and can be very painful.

Be sure to wear socks double up if needed even around the house in the wintertime and keep an extra pair of clothes in your car for emergencies, there is nothing worse than being caught in an emergency and freezing.

Go outside during the warmest part of a sunny winter day, take a walk if possible, or just sit on the porch and soak in a bit of that natural vitamin D. Definately try to get a little exercise outside while you’re at it.

And remember, sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, although, it could be hard for your body to make vitamin D when your skin is covered up.

This is why your doctor may increase your vitamin D in the wintertime, so don't hesitate to talk to your doctor and ask if it may be helpful for you to get in increase during the winter months (be sure to not do this on your own, however).

As a result of the cold, you may run really hot baths or showers. But be careful. Remember, extreme heat is not your friend when living with MS, either. In the end, it's a delicate balance, so err on the side of caution rather than extreme heat in the cold.

Try drinking warm beverages a cup of hot chocolate, teas that fight inflammation ginger or turmeric tea, or decaf coffee to take the chill off and warm your body’s core faster.

Cold weather and MS may not go together, but you can learn to tolerate the combination better. many other MS-related situations that you must get through, a little strategic planning about winter activities can help you have at least a little control over symptoms. So think positively, plan ahead, and make sure to stay warm this winter. 

Back to MS Living Out Loud with L


Chilled out: cold sensitivity and MS

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

Sensitivity to cold is not as well-known as heat sensitivity but both occur quite frequently in MS.

Just to confuse things, some people are sensitive to both heat and cold so the temperature needs to be just right for them to feel at their best.

It can be even harder to explain to others if heat makes some of your symptoms worse but cold makes different symptoms worse. This also seems quite common. These phenomena seem to be another example of everyone with MS being different.

Which symptoms get worse?

Probably any symptoms can get worse. It’s a very individual thing.

The more common ones seem to be:

Why does it happen?

There are several possible reasons. In many people with MS, getting cold may affect the speed that messages pass along nerves which have already been damaged by MS and this gives rise to increased symptoms.

In some cases, there is a lesion in a part of the brain that controls temperature regulation in the body.

Other people might have a lesion in a brain area that should respond to decreased temperature, for example, by initiating shivering so that you warm up again. Without this response, you still feel cold.

Don’t assume that cold sensitivity is always due to MS. There are other conditions thyroid problems and Reynaud’s phenomenon which can be triggered by cold. If in doubt, consult your MS nurse or GP.

Turn up the heat?

What can you do if cold sensitivity affects you?

  • Layers of clothes work well as you can peel layers on and off as needed to keep your temperature just right. Thermal socks and thermal underwear can be a good option if you are often cold. Fleecy gloves, hat, scarf and a good coat can make going out much easier.
  • Hot water bottles, electric blankets and heat pads can work well but be careful if MS has changed how you feel temperature on the skin so that you don’t get burnt.
  • Move around regularly if possible to improve your circulation and minimise muscle stiffness brought on by the cold. If you are sitting for long periods, a fleecy blanket that you can wrap around you works wonders. Some of them have sleeves which can be really helpful.
  • Have hot food and drinks. Avoid too much alcohol which, although it can make you feel warm, increases blood flow to the skin so cooling you even more.
  • Keep your home warm by closing windows, shutting internal doors and drawing curtains as soon as it begins to get dark. Get your loft and cavity walls checked out to make sure they are as well insulated as possible.
  • Turn up the heating if you need to. If increased fuel costs are a worry, check out the website of the Energy Saving Trust for money saving tips.
  • Sit outside in the sun.  Take a holiday somewhere warm if you can.

If you are affected by both heat and cold, try and strike the right balance by choosing flexible solutions.


MS Trust Information Team


How Cold Temperatures Affect MS Symptoms

Cold Weather and MS Symptoms: Effects and How to Cope

What improves or worsens your multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms may not be the same as what affects someone else. Cold weather is a great example of that.

Cold temperatures can ease or prevent MS symptoms in those who experience Uhtoff's phenomenon—the worsening of neurological symptoms (or even triggering of full-blown MS exacerbation) due to increased body temperature.

For many others, however, being cold can impact nerves and muscle activity, leading to pain and mobility challenges.

Feel your best by thinking of all of the possible factors that can have an effect on your MS symptoms, for better or for worse. Here are some related to cold temperatures (and seasonal changes) that are worth being aware of.

Cold temperatures can alter muscle and nerve activity. And when you have MS, the nerves in your brain, spine, and eyes may already be a bit slowed down. Adding the effects of cold body temperature can cause this altered nerve activity to manifest with cramping, stiffness, tightness, and spasticity.

Sometimes, this can be painful, limiting your movements even further than they might already be. You may find it harder to use your hands and that walking is more difficult than it may already be. It can also worsen the MS hug, which is a gripping feeling you may feel around your torso. (It is caused by spasticity of the tiny muscles between the ribs.)

MS is more common in regions with cold climates, with the highest per capita incidence among Canadians and northern Europeans. And within these cold-climate regions, MS is more common among people who descended from northern European backgrounds. Experts agree that there are genetic and environmental components for this trend.

Staying away from cold temperatures can be challenging at times. If your mobility is limited, you might not easily be able to reach heat/air conditioning controls, for example, or your desire to warm things up may be overruled by those around you who prefer to keep things cool. You might also live in a climate that isn't as friendly to you and your disease as you'd .

Use the following strategies to your advantage whenever you can.

Verywell / Cindy Chung

Try drinking warm beverages a cup of hot chocolate, tea, or cider to take the chill off and warm your body’s core faster. (Drinking or eating warm foods is not associated with Uhtoff's phenomenon.)

In most geographic regions, the temperature outside may change drastically throughout the day. And indoors, most workplace offices are cooled to low temperatures with AC.

Since you might go from a cold building to a hot car in minutes, you can prepare yourself for comfort by having layers handy for the variety of temperatures you may encounter.

If your mobility is limited, consider getting a remote to control the thermostat, a handheld fan, or a heating pad so you can easily control both your environmental and body temperatures.

Go outside during the coolest part of a hot day or the warmest part of a cold day and soak in a bit of warmth. If you use a wheelchair, a walker, or a cane, getting outside safely is an important part of your day.

Because overcompensating with excessive heat can exacerbate your MS, maintaining a moderate temperature is especially important.

Very hot baths or showers, or a cozy fireplace can seem a natural way to deal with the cold, but be careful: Extreme heat is not your friend either. In the end, err on the side of moderation.

If cold-induced pain or motor limitations are interfering with your ability to function, your doctor might prescribe a muscle relaxant or a pain medication for you to take during months when you experience these symptoms.

You can take these medications on an everyday schedule to prevent cramping and its associated pain, or you can take them as needed when you feel the cramping coming on. Your doctor will give you instructions your specific situation.

Cold weather can certainly have an impact on your MS that's related to temperature alone. But there are other ways that colder seasons can affect you, too.

As you consider the above, also think about how cold temperatures might impact your behaviors and how that can play into how you feel.

Sunlight helps your body make active vitamin D. Limited sunlight (say, from avoiding your daily walks because it's too cold outside) puts you at risk of vitamin D deficiency, which can make MS symptoms worse and may even trigger a relapse.

Depression is more common during cold months, and this is related to sunlight exposure/vitamin D deficiency, a lack of outdoor activity, and some unexplained factors.

MS and depression are closely related. While MS can worsen or trigger depression, depression can also make it hard for you to function at your best. Speak to your doctor if you experience symptoms of depression. Though many overlap with those of MS, such as fatigue and sleep disturbances, it's important that a professional weigh in on why you're feeling the way you are.

Infections, which are a known trigger of MS relapses, are more common during winter months. Even a few days of the flu can trigger a major MS exacerbation, requiring hospitalization and treatment with a course of intravenous (IV) steroids.

If your seasonal allergies are at their worst during the colder winter or fall months, your MS may be more difficult to cope with at that time too.