Learning how to live with MS takes time. Only through experience can someone learn which things in their environment trigger an MS flare. Many of these triggers can come as a total surprise.
To find out more about your experiences, we reached out on the MultipleSclerosis.net Facebook page and asked the community to fill in the blank: “I was surprised that ______ causes my multiple sclerosis to flare.”
More than 400 people responded. Here is what they shared.
Stress was the number one answer to the prompt. Many people with MS have learned over time that stress triggers a flare. And through experience, they have learned exactly which stressors cause flares. Everyone reacts to situations differently. A situation that is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another.
Whether it’s a work deadline or a visit from a family member, an event may trigger a flare for one person but not for another. Here are some of this community’s triggers.
“Being in an extremely stressful career. I am a chef and a chef instructor, and as my MS has progressed, I can no longer work in the career that I loved.”
“My onset was caused by a friend dying.”
“I was surprised to learn that talking with my family, especially my son, sends me into a flare. Every time I am around him, I go into a flare. He is bipolar, and we have had serious problems in the past.”
“Heat and humidity I knew, but stress, I did not. I just know when I do not feel right. Stress can wear on my mind, which shows up in my body as numb, tingly, heavy pain.”
Many people were surprised to learn that changes in the weather are enough to cause a flare. This might include the drop in barometric pressure that comes with a storm. Extreme heat, extreme cold, and changes in season can also cause flares.
“I was surprised that weather (low-pressure systems) causes my multiple sclerosis to flare. The storms in southern Arkansas where I live make my body hurt and weak.”
“Major heat and humidity affect me terribly.”
“Any change in weather patterns can cause a flare for me.”
Heat of any kind
Community members shared that they were surprised to learn all the different ways heat can affect their MS. Hot foods such as coffee or soup can trigger a flare. So, too, can spicy foods. Hot water from a bath, shower, or hot tub can also cause flares.
“HEAT! Not just the temperature in my environment, but water that is too hot, food that is too hot, and drinks that are too hot. It baffles me constantly.”
“Spicy foods. No kidding. Vinegar foods and peppers make my scalp crawl, then I get a headache, followed by leg muscle spasms.”
“Hot showers, which I used to love, have to be avoided.”
“Bubble baths. For me, now it is showers only.”
“The most surprising and incredibly disabling thing that causes a flare is a fever. I become completely incapacitated and cannot even speak. It is so frightening!”
Several people shared that eating unhealthy foods, especially sugar, can cause a flare. It can be devastating when sugar leads to a flare.
“Sweetarts, Pixy Stix or similar sweet candies make me break out in a sweat. I can feel my face get hot and red.”
“Today my flare-ups are caused by poor nutrition, a.k.a. sugars.”
Many women in the MS community have found that their menstrual cycles cause flare-ups. For some, the week of bleeding is triggering. For others, the flare-ups can happen in the weeks before or after.
“I have had MS since 1997, and my period used to cause flare-ups. I was so happy when I had a complete hysterectomy and had no more monthly cycles!”
“I take birth control even though I have my tubes tied, because my menstrual cycle would cause me to flare like crazy for 1 week before and 1 week after my period. That left me with only 1 OK week a month.”