Living with M.S.

"Living with M.S. is sort of like training for a long race. The harder you try, and the longer you keep at it, the stronger you become.
Eventually, looking back, you may be amazed at the power you possessed, even when you had no idea it was within your reach." (Linda Ann Nickerson)

Friday

Is sunshine good or bad for MS?




Navigating the swirling and often unknown waters of a chronic medical condition like multiple sclerosis can be a confusing endeavor. Doesn’t it seem like we often receive conflicting information and nonsensical advice, even from medical professionals and scientific experts?



Take sunshine, for example.

Is catching a few rays a good thing for MSers, or is it a bad thing? Can staying out in the summer sun make us healthier and stronger, or does it set us up for flare-ups?

Let’s break it down for a moment.

1) Sun exposure gives us Vitamin D. That’s a good thing.

Yes, doctors. We hear you. We know we don’t get enough Vitamin D – no matter how many tablets we take. (My MS specialist has perfected the art of the nag on this topic, ordering blood draws every time the wind blows. And the lab always comes back with the same verdict: not enough Vitamin D.)

Doctors don’t seem to know whether MSers simply don’t take enough Vitamin D, live in climates where we don’t enjoy enough sunlight, or physiologically cannot absorb and use the Vitamin D we do get. For whatever reason, we seem to be perpetually low on this one, which is apparently a big help for coping with MS (as well as preventing osteoporosis, improving immunity, reducing inflammation, and helping with tons of other health issues).

OK, so spending time in the sunshine can boost our Vitamin D. That’s a plus. 

2) Sunny weather draws us to be up and about. That’s also a good thing.

Maybe MSers don’t all have Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD), but there’s definitely something to be said for stepping outdoors, and sunlight makes that much more inviting. Like almost anyone, we may find ourselves more motivated to get up, get out, and get moving when the weather is wonderful. And motion is good. Let's call it exercise, whether we roll or stroll or even jog.

3) Sunny days bring extra warmth, which can set off MS symptoms. That’s not such a good thing.

When an MSer overheats, past and present MS symptoms tend to go haywire. Blindness, confusion, disorientation, dizziness, fatigue, numbness, pain, tingling, vertigo, and tons of other weird stuff can happen. It’s not pretty. This delightful phenomenon has been documented as Uhthoff’s syndrome. And it means MSers tend to enjoy warm weather days in smaller doses than most other people. And don't get me started on hot flashes!

(We also use a lot less hot water than other folks. But that’s another story. Read: Remember when bathing didn’t make you blind?)

4) What about skin cancer? That’s a bad thing.

Just because we have MS, we are not immune from other health risks. That means we have to slather ourselves in sunscreen and cover up or seek shade on the sunniest days – just like everyone else.

So where does an MSer stand on the benefits of sunshine?

Despite the risks (and a few skin cancer surgeries), I’ll seek some sun. Sure, I’ll try to be careful out there, hoping to avoid additional appointments with the skin cancer surgeon and slug-fests with Uhthoff. But it sure beats staying inside and moping over MS. (I’ve tried that too, and it’s really not pretty, after a while.)

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 Adapted from public domain artwork

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