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Icy Cold Fingers: MS Broke My Thermostat!

Icy Cold Fingers: MS Broke My Thermostat!

You've Got Some Nerves

It’s definitely autumn here in the Pacific Northwest. Misty, gray mornings give way to breezy sunshine in the afternoon … for a couple of hours anyway, until the evening rain arrives. This is the time of year that the weather forecasters compete to see who can come up with the most creative ways to describe our damp and chilly climate.  It is also the time of year that I experience a change in my MS symptoms, relative to the cold weather. This is very confusing for friends and family, who say to me, “…but I thought that you don’t like the heat?!”

It is true that warmer temperatures aggravate my MS symptoms (I’ll save that post for sunnier days), but it is also true that cold temperatures cause other problems.  You see, it’s not just my air conditioner or my heater that is broken … it’s the thermostat itself! I should be very clear here, this is my personal and non-scientifically proven theory. No randomized, clinical trials were harmed in the making of this story.

Much like the creative forecasters, I have an array of ways to describe my MS symptoms based on how cold and damp it is.  Solutions and strategies also vary accordingly. It looks like this:

 MS Cold Weather and Symptom Forecast

  • Morning chills and moderate spasticity give way to mild spasticity as the day gets warmer. Turn up the heaters in the morning and drink some tea!
  • Cold nose and feet early in the day, changing to increased nerve pain in feet and legs by evening. Put on two pair of socks (thin cotton underneath and loose wool on top) and warm up the flax heating pad! Place a heating pad at the foot of the bed before tucking yourself in.
  • Burning nerve pain running from your right ear down your arm as you watch your son’s lacrosse game. Put on a wool hat that covers your ears and a warm scarf. Tuck some charcoal, air-activated hand warmers inside your mittens (mittens are better than gloves).
  • Mr. Raynaud will blow through mid-day.  Find a warm body and put your hands on them!  If that just isn’t a socially acceptable option, try running your frigid digits under warm water.

My poor children grew up with me sneaking up behind them to put my hands on the back of their neck and shoulders — they were so warm!  At some point I started saying, “Icy cold fingers of death!” when I grabbed them.  It’s weird, I know.  I don’t remember what started it, but it became a running joke. As did my line, “These kids don’t need college funds … they can get scholarships. Therapy funds are what they’ll need!”  I like to think it’s their empathetic souls and not a fear of my icy hands that caused them to become experts at making me a cup of tea, getting the heating pad, and bringing me an extra blanket.

I did a bit of searching the interwebs and came up with this fact sheet from the British Multiple Sclerosis Society. Many articles focus more heavily on heat sensitivity, this one does a good job balancing the hot and cold (unlike my body).  It has several useful tips for staying warm, my favorite of which is, “Storing a hot drink in a flask can help avoid repeated trips to the kettle.”  Yes! God bless the Brits, save the Queen, and one hot toddy coming right up! That is what they mean, right?

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Judy has been living with MS for 13 years. She remains amazed at the array of symptoms that this chronic degenerative disease of the nervous system may cause. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is reported to have said, “The only thing constant is change.” Judy has found this to be particularly true living with MS. She will explore the varied MS symptoms and manifestations, and most importantly, the rainbow of creative adaptations, coping mechanisms, and remedies available for MS patients to try.
Judy has been living with MS for 13 years. She remains amazed at the array of symptoms that this chronic degenerative disease of the nervous system may cause. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is reported to have said, “The only thing constant is change.” Judy has found this to be particularly true living with MS. She will explore the varied MS symptoms and manifestations, and most importantly, the rainbow of creative adaptations, coping mechanisms, and remedies available for MS patients to try.
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  1. Rachel says:

    Have always had thermostat issues, even before being diagnosed with MS. Always felt cold in the evenings, especially after supper. Warmer as the night wore on.
    Meds have added their own twist. When I first took tecfidera I felt like a blast furnace – warmth and flushing, especially head and upper torso. With time it got better, except for residual flushing of the ear lobes. Go figure!
    But even now, if I take the meds on an empty stomach, get spectacular heating effects – hot all over but especially my face and head. Does cut down on heating bills ????

    • Judy Lynn says:

      Rachel, you make an excellent point that medication side effects could contribute! My cold hands became worse after adding a much-needed medication for nerve pain. But you and your rosy ear lobes have done a good job of finding a silver lining in the form of reduced heating bills- that made me smile!

  2. Robert M Rafferty says:


    perfect, I’ve been saying my thermostat is broken for years!

    People are so confused until I explain, you have done it perfectly!

  3. Jennifer Libby says:

    Fleece socks work well when you’re allergic to wool. I agree with the mittens. Your humor is awesome. It is always great to find people that get you.

    • Judy Lynn says:

      Ah yes- thank you for adding this suggestion! I have some fleece ones that are much softer and nicer for sleeping in than the wool.

  4. Sarah Webley says:

    Great piece! I find that it great at night to have an electric under-blanket which I can leave at a low setting all night; this helps so much with those times I have to get up to go to the bathroom as I warm up again quickly once back in bed. The under-blanket has separate controls for each side of the bed and my husband is very grateful that I no longer put my freezing cold feet on him to warm them up!

    • Judy Lynn says:

      Sarah- I’m sitting here bundled up as I read this, a chilly windstorm is blowing in. I’ve moved to an older, drafty home this year and I think it’s time for me to try an electric blanket. I’m going to get myself an early Christmas gift!! I have the same problem when I get up at night to use the bathroom…the bed is cold when I return!

  5. erik n. oxy says:

    The cold is what affects me !!! I loath the winters here in Kansas … In the summer my body almost feels like a battery. I feel energized, with only little problems with my M.S. !!! But the winters, I could almost hibernate !!!! My exacerbation’s almost always seem in the winter months also !!! Does anyone else go thru this ?

    • Judy Lynn says:

      Erik- I lived in the Midwest for many years, I know the winters that you are talking about! My exacerbations don’t seem to be seasonal, but summer and winter are challenging for me. I am curious if others have noticed a seasonality to their exacerbations.

      • I live just outside Chicago, I have had most exasporations at this time of the year, however, I have challenges depending on the barometric pressure. It seems to me that if the pressure is between 50-70 I manage, the temperature change brings on different defficancies.

        Just like weather disturbances, when the thunderstorms pass, I find I am most at ease.

      • Elle Smith says:

        Live in The Netherlands, basically a humid swamp. The only thing that saves my butt is the proximity to the sea: minimal difference between day and night temperatures. I try to keep the indoor temperature on +25/26C, the ideal combatant of spasticity, and parade around in overknees, hot pants and cooling sports tops. Needless to say, my better half spends most of his time home on the garden terrace… But in the end, it’s about whatever works.
        Heard a lot of stories of MS patients relocating to south Europe and feeling much better and much more stable. Should start brushing on my Spanish…

        • Judy Lynn says:

          Elle- you made me laugh! I don’t know if I could pull off your look, but you’re quite right- whatever works and makes life better! I definitely think about spending winters elsewhere in my retirement.

  6. Wow I always say, all the time that my internal temperature guage is broken. I’ve been saying since the age of 25 that I’m hot flashing. Since I get hot out of nowhere. I’ve been sick for the past 6yrs,an in the last yr the cold air has been just as bad as the heat. I just wanted to say thank you for this article. it’s given me some clarity an validation to what I’ve been saying for quite some time now. Be well an I look forward to seeing more helpful articles.

    • Judy Lynn says:

      Thank you! I understand that feeling of validation and clarity, I experience it when readers share that they have similar symptoms. It is helpful to feel part of a community!

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