As a whole, the symptoms and severity levels of multiple sclerosis are all over the map, varying dramatically from person to person. But perhaps the most common MS symptom is fatigue. In fact, about 80 percent of people with the disease experience it, according to the National MS Society.
What’s more, the potential sources of fatigue abound: physical exertion, depression, side effects of medications, and sleep deprivation brought on by nightly muscle spasms, bladder dysfunction, or other MS symptoms. On top of all of these energy drainers, people with MS may also experience a specific type of fatigue called lassitude.
This MS-related fatigue is more severe than normal fatigue. It can occur even when you don’t have issues with sleep, depression, or your activity level, and it can be quite debilitating. But you can fight lassitude, and that’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about it, says Jack Burks, MD, neurologist and chief medical officer of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
What Is Lassitude?
Some people use the terms lassitude and fatigue interchangeably, Dr. Burks says. However, they are very different.
“Fatigue is something we all have, but lassitude is related to myelin damage itself,” Burks says. “The myelin’s job is to insulate the nerves so that messages get through quickly. When the myelin is damaged, the messages don’t get through as quickly. It takes more energy, and the energy that it takes can cause people with MS to get overly tired.”
You can wake up with lassitude even after a good night’s sleep, or it can come on suddenly and without warning at any time of day. Generally, lassitude brings on feelings of fatigue on a daily basis, and that fatigue tends to get progressively worse as the day goes on.
Lassitude can be so severe that quality of life is greatly impacted. It can be difficult to perform routine daily tasks because the fatigue is so overwhelming. But for those who have never experienced lassitude, it can be hard to understand. They may look at people with MS who appear to be perfectly healthy and think that they’re exaggerating or being overly dramatic. Educating others about lassitude can help them understand what you’re going through, Burks says.
Tips for Coping With Lassitude
Trying to get through your day while being hit with the full-body assault of lassitude can feel like a Herculean task. Burks suggests taking these steps to help cope with the burden:
- Give yourself a break. First and foremost, you must take care of yourself. Don’t feel bad about taking a break when you need it. Schedule periods of rest into your day so that they become part of your routine.
- Get regular sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable hour each night. If other MS symptoms are preventing you from getting quality sleep, talk with your doctor about how to treat them.
- Reduce stress. Toxic relationships, a stressful job, too many commitments or responsibilities — these types of tension-inducing situations should be evaluated if your fatigue feels overwhelming. Talk with people in a support group, a therapist, or a trusted doctor for ideas on reining in stress.
- Stay cool. Avoid activities that cause you to become overheated. “When lassitude is especially bad, take a cool bath or shower,” Burks recommends. “Cool your body down and relax. It’s amazing how many of my patients tell me their evenings are better when they do that.”
- Prioritize and plan activities. Determine the order of importance for tasks you need to accomplish and plan to do them at the time of day when you’re usually feeling your best. Accept that some tasks may have to wait for another day or delegate them to someone else.
- Conserve your energy. Come up with new, less taxing ways to do routine tasks. An occupational therapist can provide suggestions on how to best manage activities at work or at home. A physical therapist can help you improve your strength and coordination and teach you ways to move while using less energy. A personalized exercise program will also help improve overall health and build up your energy reserves.
Last Updated: 10/10/2014. By Mikel Theobald
Copyright © 2015 Everyday Health Media, LLC