If you have multiple sclerosis, you can do things to help limit unpredictable flare-ups of pain, dizziness, numbness and imbalance. In particular, people with relapsing-remitting MS, can take steps to avoid certain behaviors and situations that trigger MS flare-ups or relapses.
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Neurologist Alexander Rae-Grant, MD, identifies eight triggers that may lead to relapses or flare-ups.
Avoid these 8 common triggers
1. Stress: Major stress may worsen MS symptoms. “You can deal with stress through meditation, yoga, psychological counseling and by making decisions that reduce stress,” Dr. Rae-Grant says.
2. Smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for MS progression, so stopping smoking is critical.
3. Heat: Some patients are especially susceptible to heat, and symptoms may worsen whether you encounter heat outside in the sun or in hot tubs or saunas. On the other hand, some people have no problems with heat.
4. Certain medicines that may worsen MS: “These are primarily very specific medicines used for rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease,” Dr. Rae-Grant explains. “But it’s wise to check the medicine list and make sure medicines you are using are not a negative for MS.”
5. Too many medicines: Some people with MS end up on a raft of medicines which may interact with each other and cause side effects. Dr. Rae-Grant recommends working with your doctor to see which medicines are absolutely necessary and which ones you can reduce or stop taking.
6. Stopping your MS medicines: Some people go off of their MS medicines because they think they aren’t working or worry about side effects. According to Dr. Rae-Grant, these medicines help prevent relapses and new lesions, so it’s what you “don’t get” that the medicines do for you. “It’s like treating high blood pressure: You don’t feel any better on these medicines, but they may prevent a stroke or heart attack,” he says.
7. Fatigue: Patients with MS typically have a lower reserve of energy, so something like a lack of sleep can trigger MS symptoms. “Patients with MS have to follow similar good health rules just like everyone else,” Dr. Rae-Grant says. “You have to eat a nutritious diet, get some exercise every day and get plenty of sleep every night to counter that MS fatigue.”
8. Infection: Roughly one-third of all flare-ups of MS symptoms are the result of infections. Reduced bladder function in people with MS, for example, can cause urinary tract infections. But even more minor infections such as a cold or the flu can weaken your immune system and set off a flare-up.
Dr. Rae-Grant offers common-sense advice to help you limit illness and infections:
- Get your yearly flu shot.
- Avoid being around people who are ill.
- Wash your hands regularly.
When do MS flare-ups require treatment?
Minor symptoms such as fatigue, tingling or slight confusion usually disappear on their own, once you remove the trigger.
More severe MS symptoms, however, such as serious weakness or loss of vision that prevent you from functioning normally, will need treatment. A short course of steroids can usually treat more severe MS symptoms.
“Avoiding the common triggers and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you live more comfortably with this chronic disease,” Dr. Rae-Grant says.