The world is coming to terms with climate change and the vast number of changes that will come as the earth slowly turns up the heat. A change of this magnitude will ripple across life in indirect ways. It is not only the big hurricanes and forest fires. For some rare disease patients, rising temperatures are triggering for symptoms and can hurt their health.
A particular category effected by a warming world are patients with multiple sclerosis, a disease which is worsened by elevated body temperature. For them, maintaining a low body temperature is pertinent to maintaining good health. These patients are sensitive to anything that can raise their body temperature, be it illness, exercise, or a hot day. This is referred to as Uthoff’s phenomenon. Dr. Nancy Sicotte, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai explained to Neuroscience News that MS patients often have methods to keep cool, like cooling scarfs and taking cold showers and baths, using AC, or living in cold temperatures. Sicotte explained,
“I have patients who will go on vacation to a cold place like Alaska and feel amazing.”
It’s one thing to go on vacation and it’s another when the heat shows up on your doorstep. With rising temperatures, places like California and Texas that were once livable for MS patients slowly become less inhabitable. If the changes in climate are causing persistently warmer temperatures, it becomes a question of moving away from home for your health. As Sicotte continued on to explain,
“It would be very disruptive if patients had to change where they live because of MS.”
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis is a rare neurological disorder that damages the protective coating around the nerve cells called the myelin sheath, which is important for the brain’s communication with the body. Instead, the patients own immune system mistakenly attacks the body. It most commonly affects young adults and around 2/3 of patients are female. The disease presents very differently in different individuals; symptoms widely vary and can impact different parts of the body. Some more common symptoms include difficulty with speech, vision loss, loss of bladder control, weakness, numbness, difficulty with coordination, and loss of balance. Treatment is symptomatic.
For these patients it may be subtle, but the slight changes in temperature will cause a new set of questions about where to live and how. Climate change will have other effects on health as well; extreme weather conditions can knock out power needed for medical devices, block access to doctors when needed, disrupt routines necessary to maintaining stability, and cause stress that can trigger symptoms. Climate change will effect health in many ways as the world becomes more polluted and less livable for all of us. For MS patients though, these considerations may start sooner.