What is MS fatigue?
MS fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS. It is an extreme form of tiredness, one which can be debilitating and overwhelming. It can begin suddenly and can occur every day, often worsening as the day goes on.
Until it is experienced, it can be hard to understand how challenging MS fatigue can be, but take hope – it helps to share stories and swap tips with other people within the MS community who have learnt how to manage or reduce their fatigue symptoms. There are many ways to help limit MS fatigue.
What does MS fatigue feel like?
With MS fatigue, you may feel:
- Overwhelmingly tired, but not due to any reason such as physical or mental exertion or lack of sleep.
- As tired as when you went to bed after waking up from a full night’s sleep.
- That it is harder to think straight.
- That it is difficult to hold things or write as your limbs feel heavy.
- That you temporarily have more difficulties with your vision, concentration and/or balance.
- That your other MS symptoms temporarily worsen.
- Sensitivity to heat – heat may aggravate your fatigue.
MS fatigue vs regular fatigue
Take the pressure off yourself – MS fatigue is very different from the type of fatigue someone who doesn’t have MS feels such as fatigue from getting a poor night's sleep or from doing intensive exercise. MS fatigue is disproportionate to any activity you may have done.
There are some distinct characteristics associated with MS fatigue that differentiate between this common MS symptom and those who don’t have MS and are suffering from exhaustion.
- The severity
- The effect on everyday life
- The sudden onset
- The frequency
- The progression
MS fatigue management
Action you can take:
Increasing your energy
There are many positive things that you can do to minimize or manage your MS fatigue and alleviate stress, including:
✔ Avoiding heat exposure
✔ Mindfulness – one study found fatigue lowered and quality of life improved after just two months of mindfulness meditation training.
✔ Yoga or Tai Chi
✔ Regular breaks and periods of rest
✔ Discussing medication with your doctor
✔ Contacting a mental health provider if you are feeling depressed or stressed.
Seeing exercise on this list might surprise you as fatigue can make you feel like you want to avoid exercise, but this is actually counter-intuitive as numerous studies have shown that exercise will help you combat MS fatigue. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, build up your strength and stamina and help you to think and focus by improving your cognitive flexibility and processing speed. Exercise can also help to alleviate stress and depression. One of our tips is that if you are feeling MS fatigue while you exercise, it helps to take a 20 minute cognitive break.
Using your energy efficiently
As well as making positive lifestyle choices to increase the energy you have, the other side to managing fatigue is to use that energy in the most efficient way. You need to:
✔ Plan ahead and balance your busy diary between essential everyday tasks and fun activities to boost your mood. Try to prioritise so that you can use precious time wisely.
✔ Delegate – you may find this hard at first as you mistakenly think this is a loss of control, but actually, delegating allows you to take back control and focus on what is most important. Think of yourself as the CEO of your life, delegating lower priority tasks. Likewise, consider how everyday tasks can be done in a more time-efficient way.
✔ Pace yourself and rest when you need to. By saving energy you can put it towards what is most important to you.
Treatment for MS fatigue
The best treatment for MS fatigue is to make the lifestyle changes as part of the Overcoming MS program. This gives you the opportunity to take control and see what a difference you can make. The HOLISM study has shown that lifestyle factors are the strongest predictors of fatigue in people with MS.
You can also find out what makes your fatigue worse – it might be caffeine, sugar or overeating. There are so many changes you can make to your lifestyle to alleviate the fatigue and help you feel better.
Sometimes medication prescribed by your doctor can be used to treat MS fatigue - try changing your lifestyle first, and then try the medication if you need it in addition. This is because there are many factors that can cause or make MS fatigue worse. For example, if lack of fitness is a contributing factor to your fatigue, the medication won’t help. Regular exercise can increase your muscle strength, make you feel happier and help you sleep – and all this will give you an energy boost. Only you can make those changes.
What are the next steps?
If it seems like there is too much information and you don’t know where to start, read through our next steps – we can help you.