Updated: Mar 9, 2020
MS triggers include anything that worsens your symptoms or causes a relapse. In many cases, you can avoid triggers by simply knowing what they are and making efforts to sidestep them. If you can’t avoid some triggers, you may find other approaches helpful, including a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, and a good diet.
Over time, you and your doctor may be able to identify triggers that make your symptoms worse. Keeping a journal of your symptoms, when they occur, and what you were doing beforehand can help you identify potential triggers.
Here are some of the most common triggers you may experience with MS and tips to avoid them:
Having a chronic disease like MS can establish a new source of stress. But stress can stem from other sources too, including work, personal relationships, or financial worries. Too much stress may worsen your MS symptoms.
How to avoid: Find a relaxing, stress-reducing activity that you enjoy. Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are all practices that may help reduce stress and eliminate the risk of making symptoms worse.
The heat from the sun, as well as artificially heated saunas and hot tubs, may be too intense for people with MS. They can often lead to a period of exacerbated symptoms.
How to avoid: Skip any high-heat environments like saunas, hot yoga studios, and hot tubs entirely. Keep your home cool and run extra fans if necessary. On hot days, avoid direct sunlight, wear loose, light-colored clothes, and stay in the shade as much as possible.
Lack of sleep
Sleep is vital for your health. Your body uses sleep as an opportunity to repair your brain and heal other areas of damage. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body doesn’t have this down time. Excess fatigue can trigger symptoms or make them worse.
MS can also make sleep more difficult and less restful. Muscle spasms, pain, and tingling may make it difficult to fall asleep. Some common MS medications may also interrupt your sleep cycle, preventing you from getting shut-eye when you feel tired.
How to avoid: Talk with your doctor about any sleep problems you may have. Sleep is vital to your overall health, so this is an important area of treatment and observation for your doctor. They can rule out any other conditions and give you tips to manage fatigue.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products can increase your symptoms and can make progression happen more quickly. Likewise, smoking is a risk factor for a number of medical conditions that can worsen your overall health, including lung disease and heart disease. One study found that tobacco smoking is associated with more severe MS. It also may speed up disability and disease progression.
How to avoid: Quitting smoking, even after your diagnosis, can improve your outcome with MS. Talk with your doctor about effective smoking cessation options.
Stopping medications too soon
Sometimes, MS medications can cause side effects. They may also not seem as effective as you’d hope. But this doesn’t mean you should stop taking the medications without your doctor’s approval. Stopping them can increase your risk of flare-ups or relapses.
How to avoid: Don’t stop taking your medications without talking to your doctor. Though you may not realize it, these treatments are often working to prevent damage, reduce relapses, and stop new lesion development.
Maren is a Patient entrepreneur who founded her first Diabetes Startup mysugarcase shortly after her diagnosis in 2008. By offering unique & innovative medical bags she wanted to eliminate the uncertainty about the storage, public image & transport of medications. With the foundation of LIV, Maren would like to do even more to make the living with chronic illnesses more liveable.
Frequently asked questions. (2018) https://mymsaa.org/ms-information/faqs/
Manouchehrinia A, et al. (2013). Tobacco smoking and disability progression in multiple sclerosis: United Kingdom cohort study. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awt139