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I’ve got the Uhthoff’s Phenomenon Blues

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Ice berg melting by Derek Keats on Flickr

Just set me adrift on this iceberg. Please!

It’s supposed to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit today and since that’s changed all my plans for the day I suppose now is a very good time to tell you about a big part of my invisible illness: Uhthoff’s Phenomenon.

Basically, Uhthoff’s Phenomenon (or Sign) is a worsening of Multiple Sclerosis symptoms caused by heat. It happens because the heat makes it even harder for your already-damaged nerves to function. Something as common-place as a hot bath or shower is enough to trigger symptoms. (Which is why, for years, the “hot bath test” was used to diagnose MS.)

You might be thinking of it as “heat intolerance” but that doesn’t describe the scope of it. I’m not intolerant of heat, I’m knocked on my ass by heat because all of a sudden my nerves no longer transmit the right messages or want to work properly. (Knocked on my ass was a literal statement; I can fall down if the heat is too extreme and I’m unable to cool off quickly enough.)

Here’s the scary part: an increase of 1/4 to 1/2 of a degree Fahrenheit is enough to trigger symptoms. Now try to imagine what an increase of, say, 30 degrees above my optimal will do to me. Yep, that’s why I’ve changed all of my plans for the day to “stay inside an air-conditioned space.”

So what actually happens to me in the heat? The symptoms come on almost immediately; it takes only minutes for me to start to feel the effects. Then I feel drowsy and my legs begin to feel weak. If I’m walking, I start to wobble. I tremble and shake. I slur and forget words, and have trouble with my memory. I feel as if I’m going to pass out. Sometimes I fall or nearly fall down.

The good thing is, under normal circumstances the symptoms can be rapidly reversed by cooling down. By under normal circumstances I mean, being able to cool down immediately. The longer you’re exposed to the heat, the longer it will take to feel better once you begin cooling down.

So if you need me today, I’ll be inside where it’s air-conditioned.


Written by tldegray

September 11, 2013 at 7:31 am

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