Common fatigue

Almost everyone who has multiple sclerosis (MS) also has fatigue. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), around 80 percent of those diagnosed with the condition will experience fatigue at some point during the course of the disease. However, the exact cause of MS-related fatigue remains unknown.

Read on for nine tips that can help you increase your energy and reduce your fatigue.

A different kind of tired

Before learning how to beat fatigue, it’s useful to understand the types of fatigue you may face when you have MS. Researchers have started to identify a number of distinct characteristics associated specifically with MS that make it quite different from garden-variety tiredness, such as:

  • Onset: It can begin suddenly.
  • Frequency: It often occurs every day.
  • Time of day: It can occur in the morning, despite your having slept the night before.
  • Progression: It commonly worsens throughout the day.
  • Sensitivity to heat: Heat and humidity may aggravate it.
  • Severity: It tends to be more severe than other types of fatigue.
  • Effect on activities: It’s more likely than regular fatigue to disrupt your ability to perform everyday tasks.

Tip 1: Exercise often

According to the Cleveland Clinic, regular physical activity can help fight fatigue related to MS. Sticking with a consistent exercise program can help with endurance, balance, weight loss, and general well-being — all important for people living with MS.

However, there is one caveat: while exercise helps some people with MS, there are others with the condition who won’t have the same benefit. If in doubt, talk to your doctor before starting any kind of new fitness program, and remember that the goal of exercise is to give you more energy, not make you feel more tired.

Tip 2: Conserve energy

Energy conservation isn’t just important for the environment, it’s also a key principle for those with MS.

What’s your best time of day to get things done (i.e., the time when you feel the most energetic)? If you notice that you feel less fatigue in the morning, take advantage of your extra energy to take care of tasks like shopping and cleaning. Then you can conserve your energy later when you feel more fatigued, knowing you’ve already accomplished key tasks for the day.

Tip 3: Stay cool

MS patients may be especially sensitive to heat. As a result, they may experience more fatigue when they’re in a warmer environment or become overheated. Try these techniques to cool down:

  • Use air conditioning as needed, especially in the summer months.
  • Wear a cooling vest.
  • Take a cool shower.
  • Jump in a swimming pool.
  • Drink icy beverages.
  • Wear lightweight clothes.

Tip 4: Try therapy

If your own lifestyle changes don’t give you the energy boost you need, you may want to try occupational or physical therapy.

With occupational therapy, a trained specialist helps you simplify activities in your work or home environments. This may involve using adaptive equipment or changing your environment to help increase your physical and mental energy.

With physical therapy, a trained professional helps you perform daily physical tasks more effectively. For instance, you may use techniques or devices that can help you to conserve energy while walking.

Tip 5: Regulate your sleep

Sleep problems are often behind the fatigue that people with MS experience. Whether you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting the amount and type of sleep you need to awaken feeling refreshed, the result is the same: you’ll feel tired.

To help prevent these problems, it’s important to regulate your sleep. This might involve identifying and treating other symptoms of MS that cause sleep problems — for example, urinary dysfunction. If all else fails, you might talk with your doctor about using sleep medications for a short period of time.

Tip 6: Avoid problem behaviors

Certain behaviors may seem to help with fatigue, but in the end may cause more problems than they solve. While drinking a hot beverage may sound like a good way to wind down if you’re having trouble sleeping, be sure to check if your drink contains caffeine. Coffee and tea typically contain caffeine, which can prevent you from falling asleep, leading to fatigue the next day.

Similarly, while alcohol may help you feel sleepy after you first drink it, it can later make it harder to get a restful night’s sleep. Review your behaviors that may be contributing to poor sleep habits and fatigue, and take steps to avoid them.

Tip 7: Eat right

Poor nutrition can make anyone feel tired or fatigued, and the same may be even more true for people with MS. Studies show that your diet can affect your symptoms and how you feel, and may even impact the progression of your disease.

Good nutrition advice for most people includes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. This advice holds true for you, too. And some tips, such as making sure you consume enough healthy fats and vitamin D, may be especially important if you have MS.

If you have questions about how you should be eating, talk to your doctor. They can help advise you, or refer you to a nutritionist who can help create a healthy eating plan just for you.

Tip 8: Keep stress in check

Just like a poor diet may affect a person with MS more than someone without it, stress could have a bigger impact on you than on your friend without MS.

Among other effects, anyone with stress can experience insomnia, which can lead to fatigue. But for people with MS, stress can actually worsen your condition. Research has shown that stress could cause increased MS lesions in the brain. And advanced disease can increase your symptoms, including fatigue.

Eating well, exercising, and even listening to music can help reduce stress. Meditation is also a proven way to help you relax and ease stress. For more ideas, talk to your doctor. But don’t stress about it — stress is a part of everyday life, so your goal should be to simply keep it under control, not get rid of it entirely.

Tip 9: Manage your medications

If you’re taking medications for other symptoms, check their side effects to make sure they aren’t adding to your fatigue. Talk to your doctor about each medication you take, and work together to determine whether you can stop taking those that can cause fatigue.

In terms of medication to help ease fatigue, your doctor can help you decide what’s right for you. While some medications including aspirin can help with fatigue management, the Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding using medications to treat tiredness. This is because as an MS patient, you may already be taking other medications, and it’s best to limit the number of drugs you take when possible.

However, everyone’s MS symptoms are different, and if you try the tips in this article and nothing works to manage your fatigue, there are medication options to help reduce fatigue. Amantadine and modafinil are two off-label drugs that may help. That said, they’re still being studied as treatment for MS fatigue, and may not be covered by your insurance for this purpose. For more information about these drugs, talk to your doctor.

Awakening to the problem

Fatigue from MS can wreak havoc on your life for many reasons, both at work and home. It may severely limit the types of activities you can do, and may even result in you having to leave your job. So, it’s worth it to learn how to manage the fatigue caused by MS.

If you have questions or concerns about your fatigue or level of energy, talk to your doctor for guidance. They’ll work with you to find ways to address your fatigue and help you have more energy in your daily life.