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Coping with MS fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis. While it can be challenging to treat, there are various ways to manage fatigue.

Article medically reviewed by Karen Vernon an MS Nursing Specialist at Salford Royal Foundation Trust, UK.

One of the most common symptoms of living with multiple sclerosis is fatigue. And no, MS fatigue isn’t like feeling a bit tired. It’s not like that feeling of weariness after a busy week or work, after a stressful day, or due to a lack of sleep, when you just need a few hours to relax and unwind to top up your energy levels again. 

No. MS fatigue is different to that, and it can be difficult – and frustrating – having to explain to other people, whether that’s a partner, other family, friends or workplace colleagues, how much it can impact your daily life. How you experience fatigue is not linked to the severity of your multiple sclerosis or how long you’ve had MS.

So, what does fatigue from multiple sclerosis feel like? Here’s how some of the members of the Shift.ms community describe their fatigue symptoms:

‘Ask them if they have ever had a hangover. Tell them it’s like that, but without the fun of the night before.’ @styubud
‘I have likened it in the past to someone stacking pallets of bricks on top of me and then expecting me to get on with my day and be productive.’ @Lynne_Kerr
‘I have heard it described as feeling like “trying to swim in a fur coat.”’ @Clary

You get the idea. While MS fatigue can come and go, for some it can feel exhausting. This can make work and social life more challenging than normal. Fatigue symptoms can come on quickly, and without much warning; they’re not directly linked to being the result of a hectic schedule or physical exertion, necessarily. This means you might wake up feeling fatigued, or suddenly feel extremely tired or wiped out in the middle of the day.

So, what can you do to cope with MS fatigue, and what kind of MS treatment is available to best manage its symptoms? Before we look at that, let’s establish the different types of multiple sclerosis fatigue.

‘Everybody has a bucket of energy that begins the day full. The energy trickles out throughout the day through a small hole in the bottom of the bucket. Every so often the bottom falls out of my bucket!’ @sfda

Types of MS fatigue

Yes - you read that right. Because this is multiple sclerosis and it’s a condition that likes to deliver lots of challenges (a bit of dark MS humour there) there are actually two different types of MS fatigue symptoms.

Fatigue is classed in two different groups – primary fatigue and secondary fatigue.

Primary MS fatigue
Secondary MS fatigue

 Tips for coping with MS fatigue

“Figure out your own priorities in life and your own natural energy rhythms. Not everyone wants to prioritise staying in employment for as long as possible and some of us function better when we ‘should be’ in bed. It’s your one wild and precious life; you don’t need to follow the script.” @Evie_Meldrum

Fatigue symptoms can make you feel like you don’t want to do anything, and that you’re powerless to avoid what can be an overwhelming and extreme form of tiredness. Fatigue is one of the most challenging MS symptoms to treat. However, there are things you can do and strategies you can put in place to manage fatigue and minimise some of the disruption to your life.

Some tips for coping with MS fatigue include:

Get rest
Identify patterns and behaviours
Exercise helps
Treatment for MS fatigue

Join the Shift.ms community today – it’s completely free – to start sharing and finding help.

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