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What’s the Best Climate for MS?

Managing MS

January 23, 2024

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Katie Chang/Stocksy United

Katie Chang/Stocksy United

by Stacey McLachlan

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Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO

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by Stacey McLachlan

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Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO

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Extreme temperatures can worsen symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Regions with temperate climates may be best for people with MS who are sensitive to such changes.

We all know that some weather can make or break your day. A sunny day will put a skip in your step, a snowstorm will mess up your commute, and a rain shower can make a breakup (or make up!) all the more dramatic.

But if you’re living with multiple sclerosis (MS), the climate can have an even more intense effect on your well-being.

People with MS often experience symptom flares when temperatures reach extreme levels. Read on to discover the best climate for MS, as well as tips for managing if a cross-country move to a more temperate region isn’t a reasonable solution for you.

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How does temperature affect multiple sclerosis?

While not every person living with MS finds that weather messes with their symptoms, between 60% and 80% of people with MS have temperature-related discomfort.

Even a change of half a degree can make a difference, limiting the ability of your MS-affected nerves to effectively transmit signals. Known as Uhthoff phenomenon, this can lead to worsening symptoms.

An important thing to note is that extreme weather doesn’t introduce new symptoms or cause your MS to progress faster. These symptoms are temporary and will fade as you return to a comfortable temperature.

Specific weather-related MS symptoms vary from person to person, but you might experience:

  • vision changes
  • increased spasticity
  • fatigue
  • nerve pain
  • mobility issues resulting from muscle weakness or loss of balance
  • decline in cognitive function (for instance, lack of concentration and memory issues)

These temperature-related symptoms reinforce the concerns many people with MS have about climate change.

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What’s the best climate for multiple sclerosis?

We know it’s a boring answer, but the ideal climate for people with MS varies from person to person.

For some people, humidity and heat are triggers, while others are sensitive to cold temperatures. Yet 20% of people living with MS don’t experience climate-related symptoms at all.

If you’re affected by the cold, a warmer climate will bring more comfort. The opposite is true if your MS symptoms flare up in hot weather.

But broadly speaking, a moderate climate with stable temperatures and low humidity will be the best option if your MS is affected by weather.

You might consider moving to a region with a mild, temperate climate, such as the West Coast of North America, and in particular, Californian cities like San Diego and Santa Barbara. Some Southeastern cities, like Charleston, South Carolina, may also fit the bill.

And if humidity doesn’t bother your symptoms too much, the Pacific Northwest offers milder temperatures year-round: Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Vancouver, Canada, are rainy but rarely too hot or too cold.

Tips for managing MS symptoms in the heat

Obviously, not everyone can pack up their lives and move to California. There are still many ways to help manage your MS symptoms in extremely hot weather:

  • Stay hydrated: For people living with and without MS, adequate hydration is crucial in hot weather. This helps regulate body temperature. Look for cool beverages and snack on popsicles and fruit.
  • Use cooling devices: Cooling vests, fans, bra inserts, and other devices can help manage heat sensitivity.
  • Take cool baths: Recover from hot weather activities with a cooling bath or shower.
  • Dress appropriately: Wear lightweight and breathable clothing to stay cool in warm weather.
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Tips for managing MS symptoms in the cold

If your MS symptoms flare up when the temperature drops, try these tips for keeping warm and safe:

  • Dress in layers: Layering clothing helps trap warmth and allows for better temperature regulation. Protect hands and feet from the cold by wearing gloves and warm socks.
  • Move frequently: Gentle activity prevents muscle stiffness and improves circulation.
  • Use heating devices: Use heating pads or blankets to stay warm during colder periods. Space heaters and radiators will keep your space toasty, too.

Frequently asked questions

Is MS worse in the summer or winter?

All experiences vary, of course, but you might find your symptoms worsened in extreme temperatures — whether hot or cold.

Still, more people are affected by heat than cold, so it’s likely that you’ll find your MS symptoms are worse in summer.

In either case, it helps to become familiar with strategies so you can stay comfortable when the weather fluctuates.

Why is MS more common in cooler climates?

It’s well established that MS is up to 10 times more common in regions closer to the equator, but the exact reasons remain unclear. Factors such as ultraviolet radiation and vitamin D production, sunlight exposure, and genetic predispositions may contribute.

It’s also believed that where you live early in life — up to about age 12 — makes a significant difference in whether you’re at higher risk for developing MS.

Does air pollution affect MS symptoms?

The jury’s still out, but a 2020 research review suggests that air pollutants increase oxidative stress on the body, which in turn leads to inflammatory reactions that can worsen MS symptoms.

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The takeaway

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for MS symptom flares caused by weather, finding comfort — through relocating to a temperate climate or through coping strategies — can enhance the quality of life for people living with multiple sclerosis.

Medically reviewed on January 23, 2024

8 Sources


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About the author

Stacey McLachlan

Stacey McLachlan is a writer, editor from Vancouver, B.C. specializing in design, food and travel writing. She earned her BA in Communications from Simon Fraser University and is editor-at-large for Western Living and Vancouver magazines. Stacey is a regular contributor to Dwell and has been published by the Globe and Mail, Montecristo, and Healthline, among other outlets. Find her on her website.

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