From One Chronic Condition to Another: Fatigue-Fighting Tips from the Multiple Sclerosis Community

Many chronic conditions have a symptom in common: fatigue. Even individuals without a diagnosis frequently suffer from fatigue due to sleep difficulties, stress, low energy levels, and poor nutrition. Because fatigue figures is such a large part of many people’s lives, some disease communities have found unique ways of fighting it. Before declaring yourself done with the fatigue-fighting strategies commonly listed in CFS and fibro tip books, try taking a look at the strategies circulating in the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) community.

Fighting Fatigue from MS

At least 8 in 10 individuals with MS experience fatigue as at least an occasional symptom of the disease. Like CFS, MS has a poorly understood cause—some suggest a virus is at its root, others an autoimmune disorder. Regardless of its origin, the outcome is the same: fatigue.

Managing fatigue with MS, according to Healthline, is an entirely different task than managing a simple sleep deficit. To improve your chances of making progress, the first step suggested is to study your fatigue. When does it occur? What makes it better or worse? How limiting is your fatigue, and how often?

Tracking your fatigue could be a crucial key to beating it. Knowing when it’s at its worst can help you plan your daily activities and conserve energy. If you often feel your fatigue in full swing first thing in the morning, take it easy when you get up. Save regular morning prep (like setting up the coffee maker, picking out clothing, packing lunches, etc.) for the evening, and plan on being most productive when you typically have a period of energy.

If your fatigue is unpredictable, take stock of a few other factors that could be influencing your energy levels. For instance, ask your doctor about all of your medications—particularly pain meds. Many prescription drugs may increase fatigue as a side effect. If you already suffer from fatigue as a symptom of your condition, medications could be making it even worse.

When you’re feeling fatigued, the MS community might have another useful trick for you: getting physically refreshed. Because individuals with MS are often sensitive to heat, fighting fatigue can sometimes be as simple as jumping in a cold shower or standing in front of the fan! “Waking up” your body with a few go-to physical tricks might also relieve some of your fatigue, so find out what works—perhaps a quick nap, splashing water on your face, watching a quick comedy skit on YouTube, or tossing back a glass of cool water.

Steer clear of common fatigue aggravators: alcohol, caffeine, and irregular sleep patterns. Just as with CFS and fibro, competing symptoms can make it hard to get a solid night of quality sleep if you have MS. Getting poor rest can make fighting fatigue a losing battle. Follow some Mayo Clinic sleep tips to get the best rest possible.

The Grand Finale: Fight Fatigue (from MS or CFS!) with Exercise

One of the most critical strategies for fighting fatigue—be it from MS or from CFS—sounds downright counterintuitive. However, research trials almost uniformly support it. The fact is, regular physical activity can significantly improve quality of life and reduce fatigue for individuals with MS or CFS.

In one trial, exercise therapy was shown to lead to complete remission of CFS symptoms in some cases; in another, group exercise training improved every single outcome measure for patients with MS, including fatigue and overall quality of life. This is, indeed, one fatigue fighting strategy that not only works for multiple conditions, but that also has perhaps the single largest impact on fatigue levels for those who participate.

The problem for most people, however, is that they are too tired to lift a finger—how will they find the energy to exercise?

Some people may not benefit from exercise or may be told by their doctors to avoid physical exertion. The rest of us, though, could benefit significantly even from exercise as simple as taking a walk around the block or stretching while watching a television show.

Try to plan exercise for the time of the day during which you usually have the most energy. Eat well and stay hydrated to make sure your body has enough fuel for the activity, and start slowly. If all you can manage for the first week is a few bicep curls with a water bottle in your hand, so be it—it’s better than nothing! Don’t fall into the habit of thinking that a “little bit” of exercise isn’t worth it. Also, be sure to mix your activities to include both strength and cardio. Toning muscles and doing a bit of cardio will, in time, make regular activities feel like less of an effort. Finally, don’t push yourself past your body’s limits—if it hurts, stop!

Exercise should leave you feeling refreshed and more energetic than before you began. If it instead drains your energy so significantly that you feel a lot worse afterward or the next day, talk to your doctor. You may need to alter your routine or stop altogether.

Hopefully these tips from the MS fatigue-fighting strategies will put your own fatigue battle in a new light. Fatigue fighters unite!

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About Katie Brind’Amour

Katie Brind’Amour, MS, is a Certified Health Education Specialist and health science writer for Healthline.com and WomensHealthcareTopics.com She is currently pursuing her PhD in Health Services Management and is eagerly/nervously awaiting the birth of her first child.

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