People with MS may find their symptom flares are connected to certain weather conditions. For a majority of people with MS, living in temperate climates without extreme hot or cold temperatures may be preferable.

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that causes pain, blurred vision, and a lack of muscle coordination. People who have MS know that symptoms often vary widely. Some might find their symptoms are aggravated when they’re in a severely cold climate, while others might find hot climates flare their symptoms more. Identifying the best climate for you to spend most of your time might be one way to supplement your treatment plan.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” perfect climate to live in if you have MS, but there’s research that gives insight into how extreme temperatures may impact your condition.

Between 60% and 80% of people with MS have temperature-sensitive symptoms. For these people, symptoms can temporarily worsen due to increases or decreases in body temperature. Even a very small temperature change (around half a degree) can limit the ability of MS-affected nerves to transmit signals to your brain.

The majority of people with MS who have sensitivity to temperatures are negatively impacted by hot or humid weather. It’s less common to feel symptom flares as a result of being outdoors in cold temperatures. For this reason, climates with mild to cool temperatures are sometimes recommended as better for MS symptom management.

It’s more likely that your MS symptoms will temporarily become worse because of an increase in body temperature rather than a decrease in body temperature. MS vision changes associated with an increase in your body temperature even have a clinical name, Uhthoff’s Phenomenon.

If you live in a climate that tends to be less humid and has lower temperatures, you’re less likely to have multiple days a year when the weather causes your symptoms to flare.

It’s important to remember that increased symptoms due to hot weather are temporary and, as far as we know, you’re not causing your MS to progress every time you raise your body temperature due to time outdoors, exercising, or having a fever.

It’s also important to know that heat does not trigger everyone in the same way, and cold can present issues of its own. Some people with MS experience increased spasticity and pain when they are in colder temperatures.

A climate is considered “hot-humid” if it receives more than 20 inches of precipitation per year and the temperature is consistently above 73°F (22.7°C) during the warmest 6 months of the year. This type of climate may be the most likely to trigger a temporary increase in MS symptoms.

If you live in a hotter climate and moving is not an option, there are adjustments you can make to reduce the impact of the heat on your symptoms.

Some ideas might include the following:

  • Stay hydrated and drink cold or cool drinks as often as possible.
  • Limit your time outside when temperatures climb higher.
  • Consider investing in a cooling vest.
  • Don’t forgo physical activity, but see if you can exercise in a cool pool of water.
  • Take tepid baths when you feel your internal temperature starting to rise.

An MS specialist who lives in your climate zone may also have area-specific ideas for you to beat the heat.

You may be considering moving to another climate to reduce your MS symptoms. If you’re thinking about doing this, there are a few things you should consider first.

Not everyone is impacted by heat in the same way. If you think your symptom flares are directly linked to spending time outside in hotter temperatures, relocating to a cooler climate may help. However, if you’re newly diagnosed with MS, or if you haven’t had heat influence your MS symptoms so far, an immediate move based on your diagnosis may not be necessary.

You also need to weigh the pros and cons of any relocation carefully. If you’re currently close to a trustworthy network of loved ones who understand the way MS affects your life or have an MS care team you like, it might make sense to stay close to them — especially if heat only impacts you on a few extremely hot days a year. Weigh these tradeoffs as you decide if you need to switch climates as an MS management strategy.

Does heat affect everyone who has MS in the same way?

No. Some people find when their body temperature increases even just a little bit, their symptoms of pain, spasticity, and blurred vision become noticeably worse. This is common, but it doesn’t happen to everyone with MS. Researchers estimate that more than 20% of people with MS may not experience any temperature sensitivity in connection with their symptoms.

Does heat cause nerve damage in people with MS?

No. An increase in your body temperature may cause your symptoms to flare up, but this is temporary. As far as researchers know, heat exposure doesn’t make your MS progress faster.

Are cold climates always better for people who have MS?

Cold climates can be better for some people who have MS, but there are some people with MS who experience symptom flares due to cold temperature exposure. Spasticity, in particular, is known to be linked to cold exposure for some people. It’s estimated that around 15% of people with MS experience sensitivity to cold that worsens their symptoms temporarily. To date, the data on how cold impacts MS is not as comprehensive as what we know about how heat can impact MS.

People who have MS often experience temperature sensitivity that can temporarily make their symptoms worse. An increase in body temperature is more likely to cause this effect than a decrease in body temperature. Humidity can also be part of the equation. For this reason, some people with MS relocate to mixed-dry or cold climates to help manage their symptoms.

If you’re concerned about the way your climate is impacting your MS, you should speak with your healthcare professional. They may have some additional ideas and treatment strategies that can help you to minimize the way that fluctuating temperatures impact you on a day-to-day basis.