Winter and its impact on people with MS


Winter is fast approaching, with days getting shorter, and temperatures dropping, which made us think – as the seasons change, does this impact upon a person’s MS? And if so, how?

Effects of Colder Temperatures on MS Symptoms

Temperature changes can have an impact upon some symptoms experienced by people with MS. Colder temperatures can have an effect on nerves and muscle activity, leading to pain and mobility challenges including cramping, stiffness and spasticity. In certain cases, the temperature change can cause difficulties in walking or the use of hands.

The cold can also worsen the so-called MS hug. This is a gripping feeling around the torso caused by spasticity of small muscles between the ribs. Our advice form the MS nursing community to MS patients would be to dress in layers and to keep yourself warm by drinking warm beverages but it is essential not to turn the heating up too high inside as excessive heat can exacerbate MS.

This takes us to the next point, heat sensitivity in MS. Heat can also have an impact upon people with MS as they can often experience temporary worsening of their symptoms in hot weather. Common symptoms triggered by heat include fatigue, blurred vision, tremor, weakness and cognitive problems. Hence, it is important to keep yourself warm during winter but try finding a happy medium while inside.

Disease Activity Can Be Impacted

Disease activity can also be impacted by the seasons. A growing number of studies have addressed the importance of environmental factors in MS for ongoing activity of established disease, and seasonal variation in relapses has been demonstrated in some studies. Higher rates of relapse activity among individuals with MS have generally been observed in spring and summer months, irrespective of place of residence (latitude).

Furthermore, in a large Northern European population-based study spanning a decade, a seasonal pattern in MS events was observed, with a peak in late spring and early summer, and a decay in late summer. This pattern was most apparent in younger patients with relapsing–remitting disease and was associated with monthly hours of sunshine. You can read more about the study here.

However, this did not account for all variation observed, suggesting that seasonal patterns of MS events are highly complex and multifactorial. In contrast, a recent study of more than 13 000 Danish patients with RRMS treated with DMTs observed a significantly lower number of relapses in July. You can read more about this particular research here. These seasonal differences in relapse rates highlight the critical effects of environmental factors in the development and expression of the disease.

Learn more through MS Nurse PRO

This guest blog post is an excerpt of a more in-depth blog written by the MS Nurse PRO team which can be accessed here.

MS Nurse PRO is an initiative of EMSP. It is an European-focused, e-learning training curriculum for nurses who work with people living with multiple sclerosis and carers. It covers 6 extensive courses in 12 languages. Members are not only a part of an educational programme but they can also take an active part in an pan European MS community of nurses and carers!

To read more about the effects of winter on people living with MS or other interesting reads, please refer to the MS Nurse PRO blog, found here.

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People living with MS can face additional challenges with seasonal changes. Winter, with its lower temperatures, can lead to difficulties in walking, the use of hands or spasms. Yet, one must also pay attention to high temperatures when inside, as heat can worsen MS symptoms such as fatigue. Furthermore, numerous studies have investigated disease activity, all proving that environmental factors play a crucial role in the development of MS.

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