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.
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 specifically associated with MS. They define it as quite different from garden-variety tiredness:
- Onset: It can begin suddenly.
- Frequency: It often occurs every day.
- Time of day: It can occur in the morning, despite 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.
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 with MS.
However, there’s one caveat: While exercise helps some people with MS, there are others who won’t experience the same benefit.
If in doubt, talk to your doctor before starting any kind of new fitness program. Also remember that the goal of exercise is to give you more energy, not make you feel more tired.
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 complete tasks such as shopping and cleaning. You can then conserve your energy later when you feel more fatigued, knowing you’ve already accomplished key tasks for the day.
People with MS may be especially sensitive to heat. As a result, they may experience more fatigue when they become overheated or are in a warmer environment. Try these techniques to cool down:
- Use air conditioning as needed, especially in the summer months.
- Wear a cooling vest.
- Wear lightweight clothes.
- Take a cool shower.
- Jump in a swimming pool.
- Drink icy beverages.
If 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 conserve energy while walking.
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 feel tired.
To help prevent these problems, it’s important to regulate your sleep. This might involve identifying and treating other MS symptoms that cause sleep problems — for example, urinary dysfunction.
If all else fails, you can talk with your doctor about using sleep medications for a short period of time.
Certain behaviors may seem to help with fatigue, but in the end, they may cause more problems than they solve.
Drinking a hot beverage may sound like a good way to wind down if you’re having trouble sleeping, but coffee and tea typically contain caffeine.
Be sure to check whether your drink contains caffeine. It 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 make it harder to get a restful night’s sleep later.
Consider behaviors that may be contributing to poor sleep habits and fatigue and try to take steps to adjust them.
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. It may even affect 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 people with MS too.
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 what you should be eating, talk to your doctor. They can help advise you. They can also refer you to a nutritionist who can help create a personalized healthy eating plan.
Just like a poor diet may affect a person with MS more than someone without it, stress could have a bigger effect on you than on your friend without MS.
Anyone with stress can experience insomnia, which can lead to fatigue.
However, if you have MS, stress can actually worsen your condition. Stress does not cause new brain lesions, but stress could cause worsening of MS symptoms including fatigue.
Advanced disease can increase your symptoms, including fatigue.
You can reduce stress by eating well, exercising, and even listening to music. Meditation is also a proven way to help you relax and ease stress. For more ideas, talk to your doctor.
Don’t stress about it, though. Stress is a part of everyday life, so your goal should be simply managing it, not getting rid of it entirely.
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 can help with fatigue management, the Cleveland Clinic advises against using medications to treat tiredness.
This is because you may already be taking other medications for your MS, and it’s best to limit the number of drugs you take when possible.
However, everyone’s MS symptoms are different. If you try the tips in this article and nothing works, there are medication options to help reduce fatigue.
They include amantadine (Gocovri) and modafinil (Provigil), two drugs used off-label.
They’re still being studied as a treatment for MS fatigue, which means your insurance may not cover them for this purpose. For more information about these drugs, talk to your doctor.
OFF-LABEL DRUG USE
Off-label drug use means a drug that’s FDA approved for one purpose is used for a different purpose that it hasn’t yet been approved to treat.
However, a doctor can still use the drug for that purpose. This is because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, but not how doctors use drugs to treat their patients.
So, your doctor can prescribe a drug however they think is best for your care.
Fatigue from MS can wreak havoc on your life for many reasons, both at work and at home.
It may severely limit the types of activities you can do and may even result in you having to leave your job. It’s worth it to learn how to manage MS-related fatigue.
If you have questions or concerns about your fatigue or level of energy, ask 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.