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Managing fatigue with relapsing and recurring multiple sclerosis (MS)

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After attending a C.H.A.T. (Connecting Helping, Aspiring, Teaching) session sponsored by MS LifeLines, an educational support service for people living with MS and their families, the recent topic was “Managing Fatigue.”

As the attendees described fatigue in their own words; it was evident that each had their own definition of what fatigue meant to them. Words like listlessness, drained, foggy and loss of strength accompanied their stories.

The topic embellished on the way fatigue plays a huge factor in Multiple Sclerosis:

  • The impact of fatigue occurs in 80% of people with relapsing MS and can feel like sleepiness or lack of physical/mental energy. It can also interfere with your ability to function and enjoy daily activities.
  • Fatigue can be caused by myelin damage that helps send signals to the brain. Once the channels are broken down, the information has to detour through less-efficient channels. When communication is seriously disrupted, it can result in extreme fatigue.
  • The difference between MS fatigue and ordinary tiredness have unique characteristics. They are usually worse than normal fatigue, can come on without warning, even after a good night’s sleep and are more likely to cause difficulties with daily activities. They can be daily episodes and generally get worse as the day progresses and made worse by heat and humidity.
  • Besides MS fatigue, other factors can cause fatigue, even in people who do not suffer from MS. Hot humid weather, medical conditions like minor infections, some medications have side effects that cause fatigue, sleep problems, depression and anxiety can add to the problem.

The discussion gave more information on ways to manage fatigue:

  • Treatment options include: occupational therapy, physical therapy, sleep regulation, psychological interventions, medications and speaking with one’s healthcare provider.
  • Staying cool, because heat can aggravate many MS symptoms. Take advantage of air conditioning, staying in during the hottest times of day, staying well-hydrated with water, wearing cotton fabrics and taking cool showers, baths or going swimming.
  • Resting when you can, by listening to the body’s cues, learning to slow down, setting priorities, not worrying about unfinished tasks, pacing activities and asking family and friends for help.
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