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MS & Fatigue: Overcoming Tiredness

If you are experiencing MS fatigue we have some information about what it is and tips on how you can manage it to feel better.

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.

Why does MS cause fatigue?

MS fatigue is felt to be due to the fact that it requires more energy to transmit nerve signals around areas of damage in the brain and spinal cord.  It may also be related to the fact that damage nerve cells cannot use energy sources as efficiently as normal, and also secondary to living with other MS symptoms, such as disturbed sleep or chronic pain.

Find out how changing your lifestyle could change your MS symptoms [2 minute read]

How long does MS Fatigue last?

Fatigue levels can vary greatly from day to day and even during the course of a day, and will affect everyone differently. Some people will have definite triggers (e.g. poor sleep, stress, physical exertion) whilst for others there is no obvious pattern.

It is not necessarily a permanent symptom, and there is much an individual can do to manage and improve fatigue.

MS fatigue vs regular fatigue

  • 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. 

These include:

  • The severity
  • The effect on everyday life
  • The sudden onset
  • The frequency
  • The progression

Managing MS fatigue

Increase your energy:

There are many positive things that you can do to minimize or manage your MS fatigue and alleviate stress, including:

  • Avoid heat exposure
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise program – if you are physically out of shape, everything will require more energy
  • Meditation
  • 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. 

Best foods for MS Fatigue

Evidence clearly shows that a high-quality diet such as wholefood, plant-based advised by Overcoming MS can significantly improve fatigue levels, as well as physical and mental quality of life

You can find all these things combined in our evidence-based7-Step Program.

Use 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.

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.

Further reading