What triggers multiple sclerosis symptoms? MS causes and flare precautions

MS causes and flare precautionsMultiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks myelin, the protective covering around nerves and the spinal cord. Such induced myelin deterioration causes further damage to the nerves and spinal cord, resulting in the multiple sclerosis symptoms.

Symptoms for multiple sclerosis patients can vary. Moreover, each patient may have their own triggers that set off the symptoms. Although multiple sclerosis is not a fatal condition, living with the symptoms can be bothersome and impede on day-to-day life. This is why it is so important to recognize your triggers in order to minimize the symptoms.

What triggers multiple sclerosis flare-ups?


Recognizing multiple sclerosis triggers is important for reducing multiple sclerosis flares. As mentioned, each patient is different, but there are also common triggers that apply to many patients. Here are some common multiple sclerosis triggers.

Stress: Dealing with stress through relaxation techniques is useful in order to reduce flares.

Smoking: Smoking is a known factor for multiple sclerosis progression, so smoking cessation is crucial.

Heat: In some patients, symptoms are triggered through heat or drastic changes in temperature. It’s best to avoid hot tubs, saunas, and prolonged exposure to sun outdoors if heat is your trigger.

Certain medications: Some medications may act as triggers for multiple sclerosis. Check with your doctor if medications you are taking for other ailments are triggering your symptoms.

Too many medications: Taking too many medications may trigger symptoms as well.

Stopping multiple sclerosis medications: Getting off multiple sclerosis medications for any reason could trigger flare-ups. Some patients believe the medications are not working or they do not like the side effects, so they stop taking them. Stopping medications without your doctor’s guidance can have consequences.

Fatigue: Lack of sleep and low energy could contribute to multiple sclerosis flare-ups.

Infection: Nearly one-third of patients experience flare-ups as a result of an infection. Even minor infections like cold or flu can be enough to trigger flares.

Multiple sclerosis causes

Multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated disease, meaning the body’s immune system attacks itself. There are a few reasons for this development, including immunologic causes, genetic causes, environmental causes, along with viruses and bacteria.

An immunologic cause of MS is the malfunction of the immune system. Researchers know that the myelin is attacked, but they are still unaware as to why it is the target.

Genetics can play a role, too, as it has been observed that individuals with a first-degree relative with multiple sclerosis are at an increased risk of developing the condition themselves. Researchers believe that environmental agents can trigger the inborn genetic susceptibility to MS.

Epidemiologists have noticed that individuals living furthest from the equator have higher rates of multiple sclerosis. This has led to the belief that a lack of vitamin D may contribute to the cause of multiple sclerosis.

Lastly, infections like the measles, human herpes virus-6, and Epstein-Barr virus have been associated with multiple sclerosis. These infections, along with others, have been known to cause myelin inflammation, which could trigger multiple sclerosis.

Other risk factors include gender – women are twice as likely to develop multiple sclerosis compared to men, ethnicity or race – Caucasians are more likely to develop multiple sclerosis compared to others, and lifestyle habits including lack of vitamin D, not consuming enough fatty fish, and smoking.

When to treat MS flares?

Not all multiple sclerosis flare-ups need to be treated as they will often go away on their own. Some flares that generally don’t require attention include fatigue, tingling, and mental fog. Severe symptoms that impede on normal function do require attention and treatment. These symptoms include vision loss, poor balance, and severe weakness.

As long as you identify your triggers you can better help reduce multiple sclerosis flares and manage multiple sclerosis.

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Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.