How Climate Change Could Put More MS Patients in Danger

An empty wheelchair in an empty hospital hallwayWhen temperatures rise, people with multiple sclerosis need to keep cool. Heat sensitivity is a hallmark of the central nervous system disorder.

So, what happens when warm weather spikes become more frequent because of climate change?

More MS patients end up in the emergency room. A new study found that during periods of unusually warm weather, they were more likely to visit the emergency room or require a visit to the doctor.

The relative increase in visits is small — but the effect is meaningful, said study author Holly Elser, an epidemiologist and student at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

Elser was moved to investigate after a patient at a routine checkup mentioned that her MS symptoms were worse with the heat.

“We know that average temperatures globally continue to rise every year and both weather and temperature patterns are anticipated to become more variable over time,” Elser said, noting that the adverse health effects have been documented in the general population and in some at-risk groups. Those include people with heart and lung diseases, dementia or serious mental illness.

“But when we looked at the literature, there really wasn’t very much on the implications of weather and temperature patterns for individuals living with MS,” Elser said.

Researchers defined unusually warm months as those when the local average temperatures exceeded long-term averages by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit.