For nearly 96% of people with multiple sclerosis, extreme fatigue is a primary symptom of their disease. Very different from exhaustion, fatigue is all-too-often not acknowledged by doctors and other family members. It is, however, very real – and, for people with MS, it can actually be measured.
Read on to learn more about what contributes to this symptom, and how you can minimize its impact.
What Contributes to Fatigue with Multiple Sclerosis?
While the causes of fatigue can be mysterious and vary from person to person, research has identified many relevant factors including:
- Poor sleep quality, due to pain, spasms, or bathroom issues
- Mood regulation disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Anemia (low red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood)
- Vitamin D deficiency, which can be linked to not being able to exercise outside
- Diabetes and other hormone-related diet issues
- And certain medications for M.S.
Because M.S. attacks the nervous system, the loss of axons and myelin is also a major factor. Brain signals have trouble navigating through areas of the brain and spinal cord that are damaged by M.S. These messages either have to find alternate routes or power through the damage – in both cases, it requires more energy for that signal to reach its destination. Everything becomes a little more difficult, a little more costly – and that energy cost adds up fast.
Feelings of fatigue are not necessarily constant. They come and go, and can be different from one day to the next. Lifestyle changes can help maximize the good days by improving physical and mental health.
The Power of Exercise
The most important thing you can do to avoid feeling fatigued (and it may seem counterintuitive) is maintain a regular exercise schedule. One study even evaluated the use of “Wii Fit” as a way to encourage low-impact exercise. In the study participants used the system 3 times per week, for 30 minutes each time, for 15 weeks. At the end of the 15 weeks, participants:
- Perceived their fatigue to be significantly decreased (using the Fatigue Severity Scale)
- had a lower anxiety level (as measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale)
- reported a decrease in overall intensity of total pain experience (measured by Short-form of the McGill Pain Questionnaire)
- reduced their waist circumference
- reduced their body fat
Gamification or social interaction – such as what the Wii Fit provides – can help overcome the pain and discomfort that can come with exercise and increase motivation, allowing you to enjoy the benefits. Of course, doing low-impact exercises (such as yoga, stretches, and sitting exercises,) or taking a walk outdoors with someone can help too – but movement games are an option to consider. Even short spurts of movement can drastically affect your circulatory system and mood in a positive way.
So, what else can you do?
Other Lifestyle Changes that May Help with Fatigue
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help decrease the severity of many symptoms, including fatigue.
Eating healthy foods – particularly lean meats, fruits, and vegetables – can influence your energy levels and overall health. It can also be useful to track the foods that you eat to get a better understanding of the source of the calories that you eat.
Getting plenty of sleep can be difficult, but it is worth figuring out. Sleep helps the nervous system work more efficiently, which can reduce fatigue. It also improves mood and overall health.
Making plans and prioritizing tasks helps you use what energy you have most efficiently. It is important to pace yourself and not overdo it – making plans in advance, figuring out what tasks you absolutely must do, and delegating the rest can help keep you from dipping into your energy reserves.
What should I avoid to combat MS fatigue?
Tobacco is generally bad for you – more specifically related to fatigue, smoking and chewing (and potentially vaping) triggers inflammation (which causes more MS damage and symptoms.) Smoked or vaped tobacco also affects the capacity and efficiency of the lungs. If the lungs are unable to do their job properly, then that is less oxygen to feed the body, and a lot less energy to spare.
Alcohol and Recreational drug use disrupt your body and mind. Chemically, drugs interfere with neurotransmitters, changing how the brain and nervous system react to these important signaling molecules. Physically, both the “highs” and the “lows” of alcohol and drug use can seriously effect the body, and the effects will be more draining in people with M.S., who are already vulnerable. Mentally, alcohol and drugs build bad habits and allow good habits to slip, as well as damage many relationships. This leads to worse overall physical and mental health and builds a “rut” that can be difficult to climb out of.
If you need to overcome your addiction and have M.S., you should do so, but make sure you are in an accredited, medically supervised program. It is not advised to do this alone. It’s better not to start drugs, and if you presently drink alcohol, to not drink too much.
Fast Foods or High Sugar Foods should definitely be avoided too. Fast food is often high oil and high carbohydrate, and – along with high sugar foods – can give a “rush” of energy followed by a “crash” as the body reacts by digesting and storing all of those sugars. This can, in particular, negatively affect diabetics – but everyone should be careful of these energy peaks and valleys. Not only do they directly affect fatigue, but they can contribute to weight issues. Fast food is also often high in salt, which can contribute to high blood pressure. Also, high fat, high sugar, and high salt foods are linked to inflammation and autoimmune damage – so eat such things in moderation!
Lassisitude and Multiple Sclerosis
Lassisitude is often used to refer to a type of severe weariness. While it is hard to describe how it is different from overall fatigue, people with M.S consider it to be different from their overall fatigue.
Lassitude, or “M.S. Lassitude” as it is sometimes referred to, is a daily instead of intermittent occurrence. It will often begin in the morning and worsen throughout the day. Environmental conditions, such as heat and humidity, will worsen it. And it may come on with suddenness, draining energy and the will to perform tasks quickly. Lassitude does not appear to be correlated to disease severity or depression, and it is a major interference in daily life.
Because of its association with M.S. and its unique traits, lassitude It is very likely neurological in origin. Although it is distinct from fatigue, it is very likely that the same lifestyle changes – better sleep, better diet, exercise, and better mental health – will also help with lassitude.
Good hygiene, the practice of keeping yourself and your living space clean,...
Many MS Warriors are familiar with chronic pain. It can last for months or...
Struggling to sleep through the night is a common frustration for people with MS....