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4 Symptoms Seasonal Affective Disorder and MS have in common

By Matt Cavallo
Living with multiple sclerosis is complicated and can be tough to manage on a day-to-day basis. When winter rolls in and the seasons change, living with MS may get more complicated. During the winter time, the days are shorter and the temperatures outside are colder. These changes can lead to seasonal depression, commonly referred to as seasonal affective disorder.

Did you know that SAD and MS have common symptoms? During this time of year, you may experience an increase in symptoms that may feel like an MS exacerbation, but may actually be SAD. The following are four symptoms SAD and MS have in common:

1. Fatigue – Fatigue is one of the top symptoms reported by those of us living with MS. Fatigue is also one of the top symptoms reported by those affected by SAD. How do you differentiate whether your increased fatigue is attributable to MS or SAD? First, consult with a doctor. Report all of your symptoms from a historical basis. Mention whether you feel more energy during the spring than the winter. Second, keep a health journal. If you notice increased fatigue when the seasons change, mark that in your journal. If you notice a pattern over time then you may be experiencing symptoms associated with SAD.

2. Sleep disorders – Many people living with MS experience insomnia or some other sleep disorder. People that have SAD are also affected by sleep disorders. Common symptoms include greater need for sleep, sleeping longer, or interrupted sleep. If you have troubles sleeping report them to a doctor right away. Sleep is something we need to restore and heal our bodies. If your sleep schedule is interrupted, it can have negative consequences in other areas of your life. Your doctor may recommend a sleep study to better understand your sleep disorder.

3. Problems Concentrating – Many of us living with MS, have experienced either visual or cognitive issues which may affect our ability to concentrate or focus. Did you know that people experiencing SAD also have trouble concentrating? Whether it is a function of the increased fatigue or sleep disorders, people experiencing SAD have problems concentrating. Problems with concentration can lead to the inability to accomplish daily activities which may lead to increased frustration. This is a tough cycle to break. Reporting these symptoms to your physician is an important way to break the chain.

4. Mood Changes – When you are experiencing symptoms common with MS or SAD it is easy to isolate yourself. Whether it is canceling commitments to stay home or avoiding contact, many people desire to stay alone when symptoms are acting up. Irritability and other changes in mood are common occurrences, as well. There are many different factors that can affect your mood, so it is important to let your doctor know right away before the isolation and irritability take over.

A continuing theme through the four symptoms: fatigue, sleep disorders, problems concentrating, and mood changes is to discuss these symptoms with your doctor. Both MS and SAD can make you feel alone and isolated. Problems with fatigue, sleep or concentration may lessen your ability to make a good decisions. These are things that your doctor needs to be aware of.

The difference between SAD and MS is that SAD is most likely to occur around the same time each year. If you have SAD, you can probably set your clock to when your symptoms will occur. As a person living with MS, it is important to make the differentiation as to whether your symptoms are as a result of SAD or MS. Look back on your personal history. Do these feelings happen around the same time each year? Keeping a health or symptom journal will help you determine whether or not these symptoms spike during a certain season.

There are small changes that you can make to reduce some symptoms associated with SAD.
  • Spend some time outdoors each day. Even if it is cloudy outside, there is a benefit to being outside.
  • Eat right and exercise daily. Winter is also the holiday season and it is easy to overeat. Making sure you eat right and exercise will help combat SAD symptoms.
  • Look into light therapy. There are special lights that simulate natural light and are thought to be beneficial to those suffering from SAD.
Living with multiple sclerosis is complicated. Trying to determine whether you symptoms are MS-related or are made worse by a condition like SAD is difficult. Your doctor can help you make that determination, but in the meantime, get outdoors, stay active and eat right, as it might help.