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MS and Getting Cold Feet (Cold Sensitivity)

By Matt Cavallo
I grew up about 18 miles south of Boston. Growing up, I was very much an outdoor winter sports person. I loved skating on the ice or skiing in the mountains. Snowball fights and king of the hill were my games of choice during a snow day. I never felt cold, even after being outside for hours in the snow. It was my happy place, and my internal temperature ran hot. I never needed extra blankets or clothes to get through a winter. My feet were always warm. As a matter of fact, my wife used to typically warm her feet up on me, but that all began to change.
I live in Arizona now and I am always cold. The low temperature today was in the upper fifties, and I was freezing. When I was growing up, I would wear shorts and short sleeved shirts if the temperatures were in the upper fifties, but today I am cold and wearing sweatpants and a long sleeve sweatshirt. I point this out because it is just happening this winter. I feel as though there is a dramatic change in my internal temperature regulation. Right now, I am trying to make a determination if this symptom is related to multiple sclerosis, my MS treatment, or something else and maybe not MS-related at all.
For me when a symptom lasts longer than 48 hours, I call my neurologist. As it turns out, MS can affect the part of your brain that controls your body’s internal temperature. Just like people living with MS can have heat sensitivities, they can also experience cold sensitivity. Some MS patients report that being cold makes their MS symptoms flare in cold temperatures the same way as described by Uhthoff's phenomenon in warm temperatures.
There is a disorder for people who have cold feet and cold extremities called, Raynaud's phenomenon. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, Raynaud’s phenomenon is a problem that causes decreased blood flow to the fingers. In some cases, it also causes less blood flow to the ears, toes, nipples, knees, or nose. This happens because of spasms of blood vessels in those areas. The spasms happen in response to cold, stress, or emotional upset. Raynaud’s can happen with autoimmune diseases such as MS.
The challenge I have had is that nothing can warm me up. It has made it hard to get warm when I am in bed and I have instant chills when I am outside in any weather under 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a sudden and dramatic change for me. Now, I warm my cold feet on my wife. You know what they say, turnabout is fair play.
So, I turned my focus to how to get and stay warmer. I found that once my internal thermostat warms up, it stays warm unless I am exposed to the cold, so I try to limit my exposure. If you are like me, and unable to get warm on your own, here are some tips that may help:
  • Wear extra layers
  • Invest in thicker socks
  • Try an electric blanket
  • Put a warm water bottle under your feet
  • Drink warm beverages like tea or coffee
  • Eat soup
  • Get up and walk if you can, it is good for the circulation
  • Talk to your neurologist if you think your cold sensitivity is MS-related