Keeping Your Cool During the Warmer Months to Help Manage MS Heat-Related Symptoms

The summer months are upon us, which means warmer temperatures and the potential for a worsening in MS symptoms. Fatigue is one of the more common symptoms of MS, and it can impact a person’s mood, sleep, and overall quality of life.1 As many of us know, there is a well-established link between MS-related fatigue and heat sensitivity,2 so the warmer summer months can be especially challenging for a person with MS.

Last summer, one of the MultipleSclerosis.net contributors, Ashley Ringstaff, wrote about some of her trips and tricks for dealing with the summer heat. Since Ashley lives in central Texas, she is no stranger to brutally hot summers. She also has 2 very energetic children who love being outside, so staying in an air-conditioned house all day isn’t an option, even if she wanted it to be. Ashley’s recommends using cooling products (not just cooling vests), including those that are available through MSAA’s Cooling Program and Polar Products. She also uses an outdoor garden hose mister and outdoor fans when she is sitting on her porch, and she even likes the inexpensive handheld fans when she is following her boys around. She noted that staying hydrated, is of course, also extremely important.

Caregivers also understand the importance of helping a person with MS stay cool to minimize heat-related symptoms. Last summer, Patrick Leer shared his story about making lifestyle adjustments to help his wife during the warm summer months. He made sure to keep a cooler packed with water bottles and a neck cooler that he received at an MS walk. Patrick also mentioned unique considerations for planning a family vacation at the beach – he would book a room with a view of the beach so his wife could stay inside with air-conditioning and enjoy watching their daughter play outside in the sand. They even managed to find a beach hotel with an ice rink, which seemed to be made for families just like theirs!

Because heat can exacerbate MS-related fatigue, we recently asked our Facebook community if they experience more fatigue in warmer months, and how they manage MS-related fatigue. Here are some of the highlights from our community members’ responses:

Managing MS-Related Fatigue in the Warmer Months

Keeping cool using different devices

  • Soak small towels in water for your neck, face and top of your head and reload it at water fountains or hoses.
  • Use a cooling vest.
  • Carry ice packs in your pockets with a travel sized spray bottle full of cold water.
  • Carry a small damp towel in the spring and summer to help cool your head and face.
  • Use Frog Togg cooling cloths.
  • Wet bands that you put around your neck really help; also drink plenty of water, use air conditioners and fans.
  • Take cool showers.
  • Some individuals may benefit by wearing long sleeves and a hat when outside. Sweating is nature’s way of keeping you cool, so long sleeves can absorb perspiration and keep you cooler. Limiting time outside to 15- or 20-minute periods with rest in between can also help.

 Consuming cold food/beverages

  • Eating crushed ice throughout the day can help.
  • Keeping a cold drink with you helps tremendously so you can cool yourself from the inside out. Iced beverages and popsicles help.

 Other tools to combat heat-related fatigue

  • Exercise helps but it is sometimes difficult to shake the symptoms to get up the energy to go exercise.
  • Acupuncture and reflexology can help.
  • Try to get as much done in the morning to mid afternoon.
  • If prescribed by your doctor, taking a medication such as Provigil® (modafinil) that promotes wakefulness can help.

MultipleSclerosis.net moderator, Christie Germans, mentioned that she relies heavily on air conditioning as well, and she’s able to get a discount on her electricity bill due to her MS diagnosis. She recommends exploring your gas/electricity provider’s website for discounts available for medical needs. Multiple sclerosis will likely be listed in the “qualifying medical needs” list. Or, contact your neurologist’s office. You may be able to save as much as 30% on your bill! For her full response, click here.

Do you experience more symptoms in the warmer months? How do you manage MS-related fatigue?

References

1. Induruwa I, Constantinescu CS, Gran B. Fatigue in multiple sclerosis – a brief review. J Neurol Sci. 2012;323:9-15.

2. Marino FE. Heat reactions in multiple sclerosis: An overlooked paradigm in the study of comparative fatigue. Int. J Hyperthermia. 2009;25:34-40.

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Give Yourself Time to Plan for Travel

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When planning a summer vacation (or any trip for that matter) a great deal of detail is required to figure out the best place to stay, the quickest and easiest way to travel, and what activities you want to do. The list goes on and on.

When you also need to plan for accessibility or special accommodations, it adds extra steps to the traveling process. Sometimes you may even want to throw in the towel if planning the vacation becomes so hectic or frustrating that it causes increased stress or anxiety.

Depending upon your needs, creating a plan of action or checklist of sorts may be a good first step in alleviating frustrations. Here are a few ideas to get you started on your list:

1) What places might be fun to visit/where do I want to go?

2) How much do I have budgeted to spend?

3) Will I need to fly, drive, or take a train/ bus (and what are the benefits and challenges for me getting on a plane, bus, etc.)?

4) Do I want to go as part of a guided tour with a set itinerary and is there an accessible travel option?

5) Where will I stay, and do I need to call ahead to confirm accessible accommodations?

Once you begin to narrow down your choices of budget, location, and means of travel, you can then begin to focus on planning for specific accommodations (picking the seat closest to the bathroom or coordinating with your flight attendant to offer wheelchair assistance) and the fun activities you want to participate in on your trip.

Wherever you go, even if it is a day trip, try to have some fun this summer!

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Spread Some Sunshine For MS Awareness Month

jeri

March is half over and MS Awareness month is in full swing. We’ve come a long way in helping people understand the difference between multiple sclerosis (MS) and the disease known for “Jerry’s Kids.” I have to admit, I even made that mistake when I was first diagnosed.

Lying there in the hospital bed, feeling vulnerable in the one-size-fits-nobody cotton gown, I listened as my doctor broke the news in his most apologetic tone.

“I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible you have multiple sclerosis,” he stammered.

“You mean like that disease with the telethon?” I asked.

“No, you’re confusing MS with muscular dystrophy,” he corrected me. But that was all I got. No literature or other helpful information that might explain it further.

So here I am, fifteen years later, reflecting on what has changed. Granted, it seems less folks are making that mistake, but we’re a far cry from the level of “awareness” needed to make MS a household word. Wouldn’t it be nice to see medical breakthroughs in MS as part of your typical nightly news program?

Maybe all MS needs is a good PR campaign. That’s where we who are living with it come in, sharing the importance of our cause and getting folks to pay attention.

But how do we go about affecting this change? How can you and I raise awareness so that the words “multiple sclerosis” roll easily off the tongues of healthy people? It takes communication on every level and that should start at home.

Don’t be overwhelmed thinking you have to have a grand plan or platform, or that your voice doesn’t matter. Every voice matters! And I’ve got a simple plan for spreading MS Awareness:

  1. Learn: You can’t explain MS to someone else until you are comfortable that you, yourself know what it is. So learn all you can.
  2. Simplify: If you’re trying to explain how MS affects you, do it with analogies. I always compare my nervous system to an old lamp and MS has caused its cord to fray. My brain flickers just like the light when the signals can’t get through. Depending on where it’s frayed, my symptoms will vary.
  3. Express yourself: Don’t think you have to be a writer, speaker, or artist to share what you know about MS. Use your own unique talents. If you like to bake, make cookies with “MS” written in frosting for a conversation starter. Maybe you’re into woodworking, so make a wallhanging or mailbox with an MS theme. Like to sew or make jewelry? Design your own MS emblems and add them to your ensemble in order to spark interest. Everyone has some gift to give to the MS awareness campaign.
  4. Get Social: The internet is a tool of empowerment. Share awareness graphics with your friends on Facebook.  MSAA_month_badge3Tweet links to Awareness fundraisers and events on Twitter. Create a video to help the newly diagnosed understand it’s not the end of the world.  Remember to use hashtag #MSAwareness when posting on social media.
  5. Reach out: Mother Teresa knew what she was talking about when she said “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” That’s the best advice I ever heard, after all, she made a difference, right? Start with family and friends and before you know it, you are telling the produce manager at the grocery store all about MS.

Think of awareness as sunshine. Every time we spread our MS message, sharing the need for research and funding, we shine a little more light on our cause–and our future looks that much brighter.

References:

http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/youve-got-this

Credit:

Hope for a Cure” illustration by Jeri Burtchell

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Newly Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?

rsz_caucasion_woman_colsoling_friend

People often experience the symptoms of multiple sclerosis long before they receive a formal diagnosis. Getting the diagnosis can result in a whole host of emotions, including confusion, stress, anger, or even relief. Knowing the cause of nagging symptoms can feel like a weight off your shoulders, but learning you have MS can also be a lot to digest.

We asked the MultipleSclerosis.Net community about the tips they would share with someone who has recently been diagnosed with MS. Nearly 300 people responded with some great suggestions. Here is a summary of the recommendations:

Do your research and advocate for yourself:

  • Stay open to ideas outside of mainstream information, but don’t believe everything you read online
  • Education is one of the most powerful tools you (and your caregivers) have
  • Find the right doctor and communicate openly – ask lots of questions and be completely honest (even with the most embarrassing symptoms). If you’re not comfortable, find a new doctor!
  • Make sure your doctor is knowledgeable in treating MS
  • Keep all your medical records

Take care of yourself*:

  • It’s important to manage your overall health – physically and mentally
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (avoid junk food)
  • Find ways to stay active. Even exercises that are not too strenuous will help you stay strong and limber
  • Give yourself time to get the rest you need
  • Don’t stop taking medications just because you start feeling better
  • Many people find that they are extra sensitive to extreme temperatures, particularly heat. Try to get out when the weather won’t be as bothersome and keep your body temperature as regular as possible

Make sure you have a strong support system:

  • Finding an MS buddy an be an enormous health
  • Work with associations and experts that can help you through the processes
  • Look to religion if it’s helpful for you
  • Keep a network of friends and family that can help you with even the simplest tasks when you need it
  • Keep your stress levels in check:
  • Try to keep stress levels as low as possible – stress can be your worst enemy with MS
  • For times when stress is unavoidable, develop ways to relieve/manage stress before it takes over and affects your health (yoga, meditation, friendship, etc.)

Keep a positive attitude, even when it’s not easy:

  • Know your limitations but find ways to continue enjoying life
  • Find something to be happy about every day
  • Remember that having MS is the “new normal” and be kind to yourself as you adjust
  • Take each day at a time
  • Go through all the necessary emotions – be mad, sad, angry…. then move on.

What advice would you share? Are there things you wish you knew at diagnosis?
*Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or exercise regimen.

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Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare

By: Matt Cavallo

The holiday season is behind us. Packed away in the garage are all the ornamental memories of the season. Driving around the neighborhood at night no longer is decorated by blinking bright lights. And while the majority of people are resuming their day-to-day routine, those of us living with Multiple Sclerosis are unknowingly entering the danger zone.

While the holidays are a magical time of year, they also impose emotional and financial stresses upon us. Many of us are looking at our December statements wondering how we spent so much or how we are going to pay off the bills. We are probably also feeling the after effects of all those great holiday dinners and desserts.

As the stress of paying the bills or trying to lose weight begins to build, we are at a greater risk for triggering a Multiple Sclerosis Exacerbation. According to the National MS Society, “an exacerbation of MS (also known as a relapse, attack, or flare-up) causes new symptoms or the worsening of old symptoms.” A 2003 research study concluded that, “stressful events were associated with increased exacerbations in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.” Furthermore, according to Healthline.com, “researchers considered the four weeks following a stressful event to be a high-risk time for exacerbations.”

Considering that the holidays are a stressful event, for those of us living with MS, this stress can lead to an exacerbation. Here are some tips to help minimize the stress from the holidays:

Tips for Minimizing Post-Holiday Stress

  1. Develop a financial plan – as the bills mount from the holidays, create a financial plan to help successfully budget your expenses. You may not be able to pay off the bills right away, but having a plan to pay off debt can help reduce stress associated with financial obligations.
  2. Change eating habits – the holidays include a lot of emotional eating. Not only do we eat larger portion sizes during the holiday, but we also eat more desserts. Use the time after the holiday to get back on track in terms of eating healthy.
  3. Exercise – the stress of holidays and the shorter days of winter make it easy to skip exercising. Exercising reduces stress and can help with symptom management.
  4. Get back on schedule – the holidays force you out of your routine. The stress of getting to these holiday events or finding the energy to participate in these events can be draining for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. Getting back on your established routine can help reduce stress.
  5. Set attainable goals – two weeks after the holidays and some of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Revisit the goals that you had to start the year and make sure that the goals are attainable. Setting too high goal expectations can bring about unnecessary stress whereas goals that you can achieve could reduce stress.

As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, understand that the stress of the holidays can leave you at a greater risk for an MS flare up. Managing that stress can help reduce the risk of an MS exacerbation. Exercising, eating right and developing a financial plan are some of the ways that you can manage stress. Following these tips and reducing stress in your life will help you avoid a post-holiday MS flare.

Resources

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Keeping Track of your MS

I thought I would share a “tip” on how I keep track of my MS – so I’m able to recall things when needed or share information with other members of my health care team (who are not my neurologist).

So here is what I’ve done. I went and bought a HUGE binder… and I requested all my Medical Records… Personally, I had to get medical records from my diagnosing neurologist (general neurologist) and my MS Specialist neurologist. But I also got my records from all my other doctors.

I find this a lot easier when I need to recall past treatment… while I can sit here and name off MS treatments I’ve taken, I can’t always recall the dates in which I was on certain medications and/or received a specific treatment for something.

My medical records binder also includes my MRI reports. I also requested my MRI reports from the radiology clinic, because I’ve found that when I have a followup appointment, and I have the records on hand… it’s easier to go over with my neurologist… especially since results can take some time to be sent.

Now let me say that this is a work in progress… because I’m always getting more medical records… I usually collect them after I have a “change” in my health… or every 6 months.

I also take the time to place my records in order by date. So it’s kind of like a binder timeline of my MS…

I’m currently working on getting dividers for the binder. While I like things in order by date, I thought it would be beneficial to categorize things further, for example: Primary Care, Neurologist, MRI Reports, etc. I’m also contemplating getting a small binder for each category, so if needed, I can take a binder with me.

It’s all about personal preference… and honestly… some people could carry their medical records with them at once… but I have A LOT of records, so that wouldn’t be so easy.

It may not be needed a lot… but I can tell you that I’m very happy that I requested my records… because it has helped me make  decisions since I was diagnosed. For example, I decided to change from my diagnosing neurologist, to a specialist. I had been contemplating the idea, but then  I went over my medical records and I saw that there were things documented in the records that were “discussed” with my mother and I… that actually were NOT.

Just know that as a patient, you have the rights to your medical records. You never know when they might come in handy and they may help to keep you on track.

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Stay on the Tracks….

Many of us have taken different modes of transportation throughout our lives. Some of these modes have included various types of trains, trolleys, and subway cars,
all of which have one common purpose: to remain on the tracks provided to get to the desired destination safely. This may be an easier task for these transportation vehicles than trying to stay on track during everyday life. Keeping things organized and staying on course can be difficult with life’s unpredictable moments and events. This can be especially true when dealing with an illness like MS, a disease that proves unpredictable itself. So how does one try to stick to the tracks when life comes by and occasionally swipes you off course?

Here are some ideas on how to stay on track while dealing with life’s roadblocks:

  • Make lists! Prioritize your responsibilities and tasks so that you can make adjustments if something throws off the day’s expected course.
  • Write notes or use a tape recorder for the day. This can help you organize and remember things to be done. This can be especially helpful if something else comes up unexpectedly, you have the notes to remind you what needed to be done!
  • Reach out for resources and support. There may be ways to receive help to keep things in order for your routine. Asking others for help or making sure someone else is aware of your anticipated tasks/goals can aid in keeping things on track.

What are some things you do to try and stay on track?
 

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Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Planning Ahead When You Have MS

Have you seen the car commercial recently where someone says something along the lines of, “we have to do something about this car”, and the little yellow line pops up and guides them to where they need to be? Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if for every problem in life that we encountered, a little yellow line helped guide us to the right choice?

Although there are no yellow brick roads guiding our way, we do have a chance to prepare ourselves for our future. I have always held true the saying, “hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Although I may be called a cynic for thinking this way, I always feel it is best to have a plan in case things don’t work out the way they were expected.

For individuals faced with a chronic illness such as MS, keeping on track and following the plan are two very important steps. From the very first doctor’s appointment a plan is created; what medications to take, what testing to have completed. It becomes part of a routine. But what happens when that plan falls apart? Maybe you need to switch medications, or you are unable to continue working. You may find yourself asking, “now what’s the plan?”

Having the next step in mind is a way to try and avoid the panic that may set in when life throws you a curve ball. To help keep on track with your MS, it is important to work with your doctor not just about the present MS challenges, but also consider planning for the future. Creating a plan about who to call and what to do if you feel as though you are having a relapse may make the experience feel a little more in your control.

Also, having discussions with family regarding long term plans and making small changes that may assist down the road can lead to less confusion and uncertainty in the future. Perhaps you’ve thought about moving to a more centralized location with more resources, or downsizing to a smaller more accessible home. For some people, these are important considerations for their future plan. What plans have you created or thought of for yourself? Looking back at your life, do you see any areas where you wish you had made a plan?

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Preparing for the Change of Seasons

By Matt Cavallo

Many of us living with Multiple Sclerosis welcome the change of seasons. Gone are the dog days of summer and the pseudo-exacerbations (brief flare-up) associated with heat. While the heat is no longer a factor, the change of seasons can present other challenges to those of us living with MS. In a speech to the University of Lille (7 December 1854), Louis Pasteur said one of my favorite quotes, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” The following self-management techniques will help you prepare for the challenges that the change of season present for those of us living with MS:

Self-Management Tips for Change of Season Issues

1. Eating healthy: Fall and Winter are associated with a lot of festive eating. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner and all the holiday parties, provide lots of yummy food and treats but also provide many opportunities for us to overeat. Some ways to keep your diet in check:

  • Eat three meals a day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skipping breakfast may lead to overeating later.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep your energy up.
  • Avoid large portions and desserts that can increase fatigue.
  • Keep a food diary and write down everything you are eating to stay on track and keep you accountable for healthy choices.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Dehydration can be confused with hunger.

2.  Preventing falls: Rain and snow in fall and winter can lead to an increased risk of falls.

  • Safeguard your entrance and exits with mats to absorb moisture.
  • Wear appropriate shoes with proper treads to provide more grip on slippery floors and sidewalks.
  • Stock up on the supplies you need to weather any storm that hits, so that you don’t have to run out during a storm.

3. Exercise: Cooler months can mean less opportunities for outdoor activities, leaving some less active.

  • Find ways to fit in exercise despite the weather.
  • Work out indoors at a local gym or in your own living room with exercise DVDs.
  • Many local gyms, like the YMCA, have indoor pools. Aquatic exercise is good for those with limited mobility.
  • You can also use swimming to raise awareness for MS through the MSAA’s Swim for MS program.
  • Mall walking is a good way to get in exercise on a rainy day.
  • The key is to keep moving!

4. Managing stress: Fall and winter months can increase stress from increased holiday parties, financial expenses and family obligations.

  • Don’t overextend yourself.
  • Set a realistic plan for what you can commit to and stick to it.
  • Take time for yourself to relax and decompress.
  • Exercise and eating healthy will play a vital role in helping to keep your stress levels at a minimum.

Each season can bring a unique set of challenges for persons with disabilities, but preparation and knowledge of self-management skills will help you anticipate and overcome those challenges to enjoy the best of what the season has to offer.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog

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Talking with Friends and Family about Multiple Sclerosis & its Symptoms

For this month, we focused our blog around managing MS.  Some helpful tips were provided and the one that sticks out to me was about “asking for help”.  Understanding your limits and what you are able to accomplish in a day is a great way to conserve your energy and focus on what is important.  Often times it is important to involve those around you, but navigating the “how to” is a challenge.

For those who struggle with the symptoms of MS that may not be visible (i.e. fatigue, pain, and cognitive changes), the hidden symptoms of MS, asking for help from a friend or loved one can often be a daunting task.  We frequently hear and read stories from individuals who feel guilty asking for help, because they don’t feel that they “look” sick.  They fear they will be judged in asking for help.

It may be helpful, before you tell everyone about your MS symptoms to think; does this person play a significant role in my life? And, can I rely on them in the future if I need help?  If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then it is time to put on your teacher hat and educate those identified helpers about what types of symptoms you experience and what they may look, or sound like, for you.  MSAA’s The Motivator Winter/Spring 2013 edition discusses may of the hidden symptoms of MS: http://www.mymsaa.org/publications/motivator/winter-spring13/.  This publication can be shared with friends and loved ones to further provide education and information.

Not every person with MS experiences symptoms in the same way, so providing information as to how MS looks and feels to you is very important.  With more understanding and better education, we can hope to reduce the stigma around the hidden symptoms of MS and promote a more positive experience for both yourself and your loved ones.

Please share your experiences, have you had to educate your friends and loved ones about the symptoms of MS?  What has worked for you?

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