Tackling Fatigue in Multiple Sclerosis: Be In it to Win It
Nearly every person with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) also suffers from fatigue. As many as 9 in 10 experience fatigue that results in some way from multiple sclerosis. The causes of multiple sclerosis fatigue are not well understood, but some sources include problems associated with sleep disruption or depression. Others may experience fatigue that is induced by medications taken for other multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Whatever the cause of your multiple sclerosis fatigue, take the advice of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation and Healthline experts to reduce your fatigue. Keep in mind, however, that the sources of multiple sclerosis fatigue may vary from person to person—so the treatment should be personalized, too!
What Works to Reduce MS Fatigue
Recent research has demonstrated that a variety of practices may show some promise for the reduction of multiple sclerosis-related fatigue. Energy conservation management (ECM) treatment has mixed results, but in some cases has a demonstrated effect on quality of life, ability to accomplish physical tasks, mental health, and social function in some studies.
Another study has suggested that neuromuscular taping may help stimulate the muscles and increase energy levels, although this method may be out of reach for most multiple sclerosis patients and needs to be examined further.
While these treatment options are still under development, there are a few tried-and-true strategies to help conquer fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis. Before making any drastic changes, work with your primary care physician to figure out two things: is it safe for you to exercise, and what is the most likely cause of your fatigue?
Personalizing Your Attack on MS Fatigue
If you have the green light to exercise, plan your routine carefully; overdoing it can make you more fatigued, while getting just enough can help boost energy levels immediately and for hours to follow. A healthy amount of exercise may help you build muscle strength, improve balance and coordination, improve mood, and improve the quality of your sleep. If you are new to the world of exercise, start slowly by walking, swimming, or cycling. Don’t head straight to P90X! Carefully adjust the frequency, intensity, and duration of your routine on a weekly basis to address your fatigue.
Make it easier to get high-quality sleep. If some of your fatigue comes from nightly bladder problems, pain, depression, or anxiety, some adjustments to your sleep environment may help alleviate the problem. Aim for a dark, cool, dry sleeping environment. Avoid exposure to bright light within an hour of going to bed (this means no phone, computer, or TV), and switch out a glowing clock to one that doesn’t emit light unless you press a button. Avoid alcohol after dinner and caffeine after mid-afternoon. Establish a routine with consistent times to go to bed and wake up. If excess weight is causing sleep apnea, work with your doctor to create a weight loss plan. Finally, address any mental health issues with a psychotherapist to reduce the impact depression or anxiety may have on sleep quality.
Finally, customize your day to manage your fatigue. Take note of the times that fatigue most affects you—right after waking up, all afternoon, etc. Depending on your typical fatigue periods, you may be able to target naps and activities to maximize your productivity and minimize your fatigue. Work on household tasks when you have energetic time periods, and take a quick nap in the midst of your foggiest time slot. Avoid heat and try to give yourself a boost of energy with a cold drink, cool shower, or short breath of air in the cold (be it just sticking your head in the freezer or standing in the snow!). Spending daylight time outdoors may also increase your vitamin D levels, which can help reduce deficiencies and offer people with multiple sclerosis a bit of extra energy.
No matter what you try, be sure to give any new routine at least a week to work (unless your symptoms worsen dramatically). Write down your fatigue symptoms so that you have a written reminder of how tired you felt at the beginning of the week compared to the end. Be sure to track other symptoms as well, like depressed mood and poor sleep—you may get an improvement in those symptoms even if you don’t see an increase in energy quite yet. Pick and choose what works best to build a routine that provides results for you. Finally, don’t forget diet! Stay hydrated and eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to give your body the fuel it needs to eat, sleep, and exercise well.