MS fatigue: Why me?
At least three out of four people with multiple sclerosis suffer from fatigue. MS can cause fatigue in a variety of different ways. Fatigue may be due to MS itself or it may be related to the symptoms and complications of the condition.
MS fatigue may be caused by MS-related mobility issues. Using a walker, cane, or other mobility aid can take a great deal of energy and effort. Everyday tasks can be much more exhausting when you have limited mobility. Therefore, people with mobility issues often suffer from fatigue.
Spasticity can also be a cause of MS-related fatigue. Muscle spasms can wake you up at night and make everyday tasks harder and more energy-consuming. Both issues can lead to fatigue.
MS can also cause respiratory (lung) problems. When your lungs aren't working at full capacity, they may not be able to deliver the oxygen that your body needs. This can lead to fatigue.
Fatigue can also be related to bowel or bladder issues caused by MS. Getting up frequently during the night can lead to a poor night's sleep. This can make you more fatigued during the day.
Just having MS can also cause fatigue. This is called primary MS fatigue. Your doctor may diagnose primary MS fatigue once other possible fatigue causes have been ruled out. Currently, no one knows exactly what causes primary MS fatigue.
It's important to note that while MS can cause fatigue, your fatigue may not necessarily be due to MS. Medications, sleeping disorders, depression, and other medical conditions can also cause fatigue. If you're feeling sluggish, speak to your doctor to pinpoint the cause(s) of your fatigue.
More than just tired
If you have multiple sclerosis, chances are you've suffered from fatigue. It can be hard to explain how MS fatigue feels to someone who hasn't experienced it, and there's a good reason for this. MS fatigue, also called primary MS fatigue, really is different.
MS symptoms, such as bladder issues, spasticity, mobility issues, and respiratory problems, can lead to fatigue. However, just having MS can cause fatigue all on its own. So far, doctors don't know what causes this type of fatigue. But if all other possible reasons for fatigue have been ruled out, primary MS fatigue is diagnosed.
Compared to regular fatigue, primary MS fatigue tends to be more severe and harder to cope with. It interferes with your daily activities much more than regular fatigue. People with MS fatigue find it hard to ignore and often need to sit or lie down and rest.
MS fatigue generally occurs more suddenly and frequently than regular fatigue. For many people with MS, it happens every day. Usually it starts early in the morning and gets worse throughout the day. Hot, humid weather can also make it worse. Unlike other types of fatigue, MS fatigue is not directly related to the severity of MS.
So what can you do about MS fatigue? See your doctor to narrow down the possible causes of your fatigue, and read "MS fatigue treatment options" and "Lifestyle changes to cope with MS fatigue" to find out more.
MS fatigue treatment options
For people with MS, fatigue can sometimes feel overwhelming. But it can be treated! Here's how to tackle your fatigue:
Find the causes. The first step in managing your fatigue is to schedule a visit with your doctor. There are many possible causes for fatigue, and your doctor can help pinpoint any medical conditions or medications that may be sapping your energy.
Get treatment for MS symptoms that cause fatigue. Mobility issues, spasticity, bowel and bladder issues, and respiratory problems can all contribute to fatigue. Fortunately, these MS symptoms can be managed with medical treatment. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
Talk to your physiotherapist or occupational therapist. These professionals can suggest an exercise program to help boost your energy levels. They can also help you find easier ways to get around and do everyday tasks. This will help you save your energy.
Seek help for depression and stress. Fatigue can be a symptom of depression. Depression can be treated with medications and psychotherapy. Once treatment starts to work, your energy should improve. Stress can also sap your energy. If you're suffering from stress, seek help by joining a support group, talking to friends and family, or visiting a mental health professional.
Consider anti-fatigue medications. If you've tried these tips and are still having problems with fatigue, talk to your doctor about other treatment options. MS-related fatigue can sometimes be treated with medications. Medications may be used together with other anti-fatigue strategies.
Lifestyle changes to cope with MS fatigue
If you're suffering from MS-related fatigue, it's important to see your doctor first to pinpoint the causes of your fatigue. Fatigue is often related to MS symptoms and medical conditions that need treatment. However, there are also a few simple lifestyle changes that can help you cope with fatigue.
Embrace the nap. Used appropriately, napping can help give you a real energy boost. The ideal nap lasts 10-30 minutes. It should be a time for quiet rest. Even if you don't fall asleep, the rest will still help recharge you. You can nap up to three times a day. Talk to your doctor or occupational therapist about the best nap schedules for you – napping shouldn't get in the way of a good night's sleep.
Keep cool. Hot temperatures can make fatigue worse. Talk to your doctor or occupational therapist about ways to beat the heat. Having a cool drink, staying in the shade, taking breaks when you get overheated, and using air conditioning can all help you stay cool and refreshed.
Exercise. Does the thought of exercise make you feel exhausted? Believe it or not, exercise can actually help you feel less tired and give you more energy. Check with your physiotherapist to find the exercise that's right for you, and inform your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Prioritize. We only have so much energy. Don't waste time and energy on things that aren't really important to you. Focus on the things that matter, and schedule them for times when you have the most energy.
Take good care of yourself. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about starting a healthy eating plan. Poor nutrition can make you feel tired and weak. If you are a smoker, consider quitting. Smoking makes it harder to breathe, and not getting enough air can tire you out. Quitting could be the breath of fresh air that you need.
These lifestyle changes can help you cope with fatigue and find new energy. If you're still struggling with fatigue after trying these tips, talk to your doctor.
Are you making the most of your MS therapy? Evaluate your current MS treatment and get some guidance to have a discussion with your neurologist.
Do you know all your treatment options? Learn about the MS disease-modifying therapies.
Tracking your MS symptoms helps you and your doctor tell how your treatment is working and how your MS is changing.