Feeling tired? It could just be the stresses and strains of daily life, but it could also be your MS. Tiredness (also known as fatigue) is one of the most common symptoms of MS, affecting over 90% of people living with MS.
MS fatigue is often described as an overwhelming sense of physical and mental tiredness and it can have a major impact on your quality of life, interferes with activities of daily living, exercise, and the ability to cope with your other MS symptoms. It might leave you feeling totally exhausted or you may just feel generally weak or lacking in energy. Fatigue can also affect your ability to concentrate, think clearly and make decisions.
My mind might be wide awake and completely alert, but my body feels like it’s run a marathon.
Some days it’s fine and I can be buzzing with energy. Other days it can be a battle to get motivated and even just to move. I have fatigue every day, it just occurs on different levels. At the moment, I can kind of work around it, but there are days when I have to cancel plans because of it. Sometimes I even have to cancel trips like shopping with friends, as standing around in shops zaps too much of my energy.
Dealing with fatigue has been hard when it comes to maintaining a social life. Often, I’m too exhausted to even leave my house and it’s been a challenge to get people to understand it’s more than simply feeling ‘tired’.
When I had my relapse, even the smallest task meant I needed a nap, and I would be sleeping for 14–16 hours a day during this period. I still get tired, but I find that keeping busy and mentally active helps.
Fatigue used to sweep over me after working only half an hour at the computer, and I found I had to lay down after that. After my relapse, I wanted to go back to work and this led to the cycle of working and resting. On reflection, my advice to others would be to give yourself a break and recover at your own pace. Don’t try and push yourself – you will get better if you give yourself a break.
Fatigue falls into two main categories, depending on whether it’s caused by MS directly (primary fatigue) or if it’s an indirect effect of other MS symptoms (secondary fatigue).
This is caused directly by your MS. It’s not known exactly how MS makes you feel tired, but it may be a result of nerve damage that interferes with communication between your brain and your body. This is why you will often experience fatigue during a relapse.
This is caused by the indirect effects of living with MS. Symptoms like muscle weakness, depression, pain, not enough sleep, stress and inactivity, can make you fatigued. For example, if pain and spasticity interfere with your sleep, you can feel more tired in the day as a result. Some medications also have side effects that can make it worse.
Fatigue can also be divided into both acute and chronic fatigue. Acute fatigue is temporary, such as during a relapse, an infection or unrelated illnesses. Chronic fatigue happens over a longer time period, even after rest, and is associated with illness, stress and not enough sleep.
Tired of being tired? Whatever the cause of your fatigue and whether it’s mild, moderate or severe, there are ways to manage it. Read on to find out how.
Ways to ease fatigue
MS can zap your energy, but it doesn’t always have to stop you from living your life. There are plenty of ways to reduce the impact fatigue has on your everyday life, some of which are listed below.
Ways to boost your energy
Give these tips and tricks a try to help you boost your energy levels:
When I experience tiredness and fatigue, I find that gentle exercise is really helpful. The hardest thing is getting off the sofa but when you do, you’ll usually feel a lot better for it.
On extreme fatigue days, I just need to lie very still. Sometimes I’ll get home from work and I have no choice but to lie on the floor and do nothing until I have enough energy to even think about making dinner. I often listen to guided meditation in these moments for some intentional stillness and rest, which helps me relax and recharge.
Tips and tricks to help deal with fatigue
As well as finding ways to manage your energy levels, there are also steps you can take to help work around your tiredness and fatigue:
Sometimes the tiredness can come in like a wave sweeping over you and you can’t fight it. You have to accept it and rest. Take yourself off for 5–10 minutes to quickly recharge your batteries. Like you plug your phone into a charger, you need to do the same for yourself. Give yourself that 10 minutes and then you can get back in the game.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Fatigue is one of the major symptoms of MS and it can take over the whole of your body. Explain to people this is a symptom of MS and try and make them understand how it feels. This is not something you need to apologise for.
I’ve been actively trying to change my relationship with my fatigue. Rather than always fighting and trying to push through, I try to accept it now – guilt free. Staying in because you’re feeling too fatigued to go out doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I no longer feel guilty staying in, because I have a better understanding of what my body needs.
Treatment for fatigue
Although there aren’t any drugs currently available to specifically treat tiredness and fatigue, you should speak to your doctor, who may be able to help you.
Speak to your healthcare team about your experience of fatigue and how it affects you, to find ways of managing it that work best for you.