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How to Distinquish Between a Real MS Flare-Up and a Pseudo Flare-Up

Updated on April 5, 2011
Increased body temperature can cause a pseudo flare-up of MS
Increased body temperature can cause a pseudo flare-up of MS

Did you know that people with MS must also contend with pseudo flare-ups? Well we do. As if getting use to the real thing isn't enough pressure to deal with, we quickly find out we must also contend with the false-positive nature of MS.

If you are new to MS, I'm sorry I even have to bring this up. You have enough on your plate already that's for sure, but you do need to understand this part of MS, if you hope to attain a fluidity in your management of a disease which is always changing.

So, the good news is, under certain circumstances your MS can flare-up and before you know it, calm right back down again. It doesn't mean you are progressing or that you have to be unduly concerned. It just means you had or are having a pseudo flare-up. I say it is good news because unlike a real flare-up, a pseudo flare-up clears up quickly, as soon as the problem causing the flare-up is handled. Also, unlike a real flare-up, no central nervous system damage is taking place. That constitutes good news for a MSer!

What is a Pseduo Flare-Up?

Make no mistake, a pseudo flare-up feels just like the real thing. That's because it is the real thing. Some mistakenly refer to it as a fake flare-up, implying you are imagining things, or feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, which is making you a drama queen or king. Nothing is farther from the truth. If you have the perfect storm of events, you WILL have a pseudo flare. If you want the flare to stop, you have to get to the root cause or causes so that your old symptoms can settle back down again. Left unchecked, you will continue to suffer and exhibit flare-up like illness.

What Causes Pseudo Flares

I remember the number one cause of my pseudo flares was oddly enough a sinus infection. In truth any infectioncan cause a pseudo flare. Just think about it, most infections cause some kind of increase in core body temperature. And what is the worse thing for MS? An increase in body temperature. The body responds just like an electrical chord responds when it is frayed, it gets open patches that prevents the smooth supply of electricity. Elevated body temperature, even just a degree, shorts out our electrical connections from our brains to our nerves and muscles and caos ensues.

I have made more than one trip to the emergency room for what I thought was a sudden attack, only to discover I had a fever due to the fact that my sinuses were infected. One time I was in the ER with a temperature of 103 degrees. As soon as I was re-hydrated and my temperature came down, all the MS symptoms disappeared too. It got to the point that I would ask the attending to check my sinuses when I had to go to the ER, just to save time. If the attending found an infection, we both knew all that was needed were antibiotics and a Tylenol -type over the counter drug, to lower my fever. Soon, I didn't even go to the ER when it happened, instead, I recognized the symptoms and would go to my primary doctor to treat the infection before it had time to get a firm hold on my MS and send it into overdrive.

Although I have only had one of these, many people with MS suffer from chronic UTI's (urinary tract infections) this type of infection does not mix well at all with MS. Drink plenty of cranberry juice as a preventative, and seek medical help as soon as an infection takes hold, to prevent a full-scale launch of MS symptoms.

In addition to infections, a cold or virus will accomplish the same thing. Don't think they can be ignored or MS will remind you who is really the boss by slowing down your nerve conduction just enough to trigger your MS symptoms.

Now that summer is here, you have to be on the look out for the 3-H's, Hazy-Hot-Humid weather. Its toughest on your ability to walk. Your brain will all but shut down, making thinking and talking a major struggle. You will feel totally overheated even if it isn't considered abnormally hot to other people.

Most people with MS find their symtoms act up when it is 75 or above. I am fortunate in that I can tolerate about 85 degrees before I began to feel it. I will suffer badly when a heat wave hits however. Nothing can be done about Jesey's dog-days of summer. Except to seek shelter in the a/c until it passes.

If you are out and about on a hot day and by the time you get home you feel like your legs have turned into jelly and your energy has been totally spent, then you have just suffered a pseduo flare-up!

Last but not least, as painful as this is to hear, exercise can cause a pseudo flare-up. The one thing everyone tells you to do to help your MS is the one thing that can make your symptoms flare and send you to your bed or couch feeling totally exhausted and unable to function. The secret to exercising, is finding your body's toleration point. Notice I said your body's tolerance. That won't be your preferred point of toleration. In fact, for most of us who enjoyed exercising and believe in its benefits, this is a hard pill to swallow. You just want to muscle through it and make your body obey your commands. For some people with MS, forcing themselves does little to no harm and often even helps. Consider Montel Williams as a good example of this point. If your body allows it, then by all means go for it. I was able to benefit from regular exercise for a long time. I still believe it is the main reason my muscles have kept functioning even in my current condition. Back when I was first diagnosed, I started lifting weights, losing weight, and taking better care of my body to perserve the strength I had, for as long as I could.

Usually, I am able to perform tasks that normal MSers can't do. Things like jumping on one foot and other strength type exercises. My doctors would tell me to squeeze their hand and when I did they would say, "ouch, that hurt." I always wonder why they tell me to squeeze hard, if they don't want to be hurt, but hey I digress. My point is that you can cut down on the amount of exercise you do and still maintain your weight and strength. The adjustment is really a mental one, you have to feel good about exercising even if you can't work up a sweat like you use to, or even if you can only work out for 20 or 30 minutes at a time, instead of that hour or two hours you use to do.

If you feel like a limp noodle after you exercise and you don't recover in say an hour or so, you are exercising too much and you are flaring up your MS.

With the aforementioned tips in mind, I hope you are able to manage your MS better and for you newbies, I hope you are better able to distinquish between a real flare-up and a pseudo flare-up


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    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      Great information. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      6 years ago from Delaware

      Hi sarafri198, don't worry at all if your thoughts are scattered. I have no problem following your concerns.

      Do you have a fever by any chance? Even a slight rise in body temperature is hurtful where MS is concerned. I have frequent sinus problems and my first clue that I have a slight fever is that my arms and legs get weak. Usually after I have rested the weakness eases up and I take that to mean I have to let my body fight the sinus problem and rest even if I'm bored. In that way my body doesn't have to work so hard.

      I am glad you have an appointment coming up so soon. It is good for your neuro to see you when symptoms are acting up as it helps him to get a complete picture.

      I don't need testing because I know I have a problem with mold and when the mold level rises I get flare-up like symptoms. I try to stay out of places where mold is higher and eventually I began to feel better.

      My e-mail address is at the top right hand side where it says "contact Jen's Solitude" please feel free to use it whenever you want. It certainly does help to have someone answer your questions and settle your nerves. We have all turned to the MS community in that way.

      Don't forget to rest today, OK?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      When you have a cold/ virus and see a new symptom, how long does it usually take to go away? I have a possible diagnosis of MS based on a few symptoms I had at the end of Dec/ beginning of January. I started coming down with a cold/ allergies this past Tuesday and it got pretty bad on Thursday and Friday. Friday morning, I woke up with my right leg and arm feeling pretty weak but I was able to regain control and walk normally/ use my arm and hand comfortably after a few hours. However, on Saturday, Sunday and today (Monday), I woke up with a similar feeling only this time the muscle weakness didn't go away with walking/ time and its even difficult for me to write and type with my right hand. I still have a bit of a runny nose so I guess I'm not completely over my cold's just a bit scary not being able to walk the way I used to a few days ago. I set up an appt to see my neurologist tomorrow. Did you guys get allergy tested? Sorry for my scattered talking and random questions..I'm just worried and don't really know who to talk to about this. Thanks!

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      7 years ago from Delaware

      Hi DTroth! It is a pleasure to meet you. Yes both sinus problems and allergies convince me I am about to flare at this time of the year. Hopefully I will get through the next two months with no major exacerbation. Stay well!

    • DTroth profile image

      Diana Owens 

      7 years ago from My Little Hole In The Wall, HubPages, USA

      Hi Jen.

      Thank you for the great info! Very useful! I haven't had any urinary tract infections (knock on wood), but I do suffer from sinus problems. ...and I know what you mean about the heat of summer. It totally kicks my butt!

      I look forward to reading more of your hubs!


    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      9 years ago from Delaware

      Hi Anya,

      I'm so glad you find this information helpful. You know I can totally understand catching germs when you are around others, what I hate is catching something when I'm home and away from those who are sick. I recently had an intestinal bug, with no discernible source, other than the people who were around my husband. He wasn't sick, so guess he was just the carrier of the bug. :(

      Getting to know Kath has been wonderful. She has introduced me to so many great people. I really appreciate her.

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Anya

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      thanks for the information. I have not had a UTI but I will look out for infections the next time I feel a flare coming on. I do notice that if I am around ppl who are sick with cold, viruses, etc., I will begin to have symptoms. this is great info and I am glad Kathy posted this link for us.

    • Jen's Solitude profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen's Solitude 

      9 years ago from Delaware

      Kath, glad your nurse was able to help you determine the cause of the pseudo flares. As if MS alone, isn't enough to worry about, eh? Thanks for the comment. :)

    • kathavfm profile image


      9 years ago from Stourbridge UK

      Hi Jen

      Just came over after you left a comment on my one very meagre hub maybe one day I'll write as much as you!)


      Yes , I had a lot of pseudo flare ups until my MS nurse suggested I might have a UTI. Indeend I am very prone to UTIs. Sure enough that's what it was and now I permanently have a supply on antibiotics on hand and dip sticks to test my urine if I'm suspicious.

      These infections seems to be asymptomatic for me, ( apart form the MS symptoms) which is good I don't  have to suffer them but bad that I can't see it coming !




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