How to cope in the heat if you have M.E. by Dr Charles Shepherd

August 12, 2020

Dr Charles Shepherd, Hon. Medical Adviser, ME Association.

With certain parts of the UK experiencing hot weather again, I thought it might be useful to consider some simple ways to combat the heat if you have M.E.

According to the Met Office, Heathrow topped the charts yesterday with a maximum temperature of 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.26 degrees Fahrenheit)!

People with M.E. almost always have problems with temperature control, and this can be exacerbated in hot weather conditions leading to worsened symptoms overall and to generally feeling more unwell.

Temperature control problems are probably related to an issue with a tiny ’thermostat’ gland in the brain called the hypothalamus – which plays a key role in temperature regulation. 

In addition, the autonomic nervous system (ANS), that controls the size of blood vessels, becomes more sensitive to changes in temperature. It also regulates blood flow to the skin and sweat, which are ways in which the body can keep itself cool.

People with M.E. have problems with the ANS and hot weather can lead to worsened symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint on standing, being unable to stand for long periods, palpitations, IBS symptoms, nausea, and general discomfort.

Having M.E. makes people more sensitive to both hot (including things like hot baths and hot weather) and cold temperatures. And hot weather can be particularly uncomfortable for people spending much or all of their time ill in bed.

Top Tips for Staying Cool

These are my top tips for dealing with hot weather – day and night:

  1. Wear lightweight and loose-fitting cotton clothes and a wide brimmed hat if you have to go outside.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated – but avoid too many caffeine containing drinks.
  3. Eat small regular meals.
  4. Reduce activity levels and stay indoors between 10.00am and 6.00pm – unless you really need to go out.
  5. Be aware of warning signs of heat related illness/heat stroke – nausea, headache, confusion, muscle cramps, feeling faint.
  6. Close the curtains and windows during the day in any room you want to stay cool, especially those that face the sun.
  7. Buy a fan to use if it’s really hot or at least try and ensure that windows/doors are open to create a cooler breeze.
  8. Take a cold ‘hot water bottle’ to bed at night, use sheets instead of duvets (several shops now sell ‘cool’ bedding if you can afford it, e.g. Marks and Spencer). But have something warmer close by in case you find you cool down too much during the night.
  9. Have a bowl of cold water and wet flannel by the bedside at night and/or let cold water run from a tap over your wrists to cool you down quickly.
  10. Be aware that some drugs (e.g. antidepressants, antihistamines) can also affect temperature control mechanisms.

What are your top tips for keeping cool in hot weather?

Visit the MEA Facebook page and share your experiences with others in our community. You can also find us on Twitter and Instagram.

Featured image: 123RF/AntonioGuillem

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