Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that attacks the central nervous system (brain, optic nerves and the spinal cord). Symptoms vary in severity. Worst case scenario, people can lose their eyesight and even become paralyzed, while more lenient cases result in having a numb feeling in the arms and legs. However, each person who suffers with MS can experience different symptoms.
This disease starts off by destroying the myelin, the fatty substance that protects nerve fibers in the nervous system. As soon as the myelin insulation is damaged it creates scar tissue, also known as sclerosis. In addition, the destroyed myelin creates nerve impulses, which travel to and from the spinal cord and the brain, which is what causes the painful symptoms that people with MS endure.
Some people with MS experience worse symptoms when they are exposed to the sun or immense heat. Their symptoms can also worsen even if they exercise because their body gets overheated. A recent MRI study found that there is a connection between brain activity and outdoor temperatures.
The study involved 26 women and 2 men (all have MS), who reported that on warmer days, they had worse mental function than normal. The study found that for a person with MS, when it is cooler outside, the brain activity is slower but when it is warmer outside, the brain activity increases and causes worse cognitive function. The parts of the brain that are affected by the warmer temperatures are the parietal, dorsolateral prefrontal and the frontal cortex’s. These parts of the brain allow people to multi task and process information. So when a person with MS is affected by the heat, they have a hard time multi-tasking or learning something new. The mind gets foggy and it is harder for them to concentrate and focus.
The findings were seen as good and bad. Good, because the research shows us how different the brain functions when someone has MS, compared to a normal brain. It also teaches us that if they are having a hard time concentrating or accomplishing tasks, perhaps a change in environment will help them feel better and be more productive. The findings are seen as bad because while someone with MS is recruiting more areas of the brain to function better when in the presence of heat, they are also making the brain function differently than a person who does not have MS, concluding that their brain is working abnormally.
The best thing to do, if you have MS, is to try to maintain a comfortable body temperature throughout the day so your body does not overheat.
Some cooling strategies are:
- Use air conditioning
- Stay indoors on very hot days
- Wear lightweight clothing
- Wear clothing that can have gel packs inserted into them
- Use air conditioning or fans
- Try to stay indoors on very hot days
- Exercise in a pool
- Drink a lot of liquids (water being the most important)