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Fatigue is a feeling of constant exhaustion, tiredness or weakness. It can be physical, mental, or a combination of both. Not to be mistaken with general sleepiness or physical tiredness, fatigue can happen suddenly and for no specific reason, and can take a long time to subside.

Without the right tools and management strategies, fatigue may interfere with your ability to work and get through day-to-day tasks.

How MS can cause fatigue

Research continues to better understand the links between MS and fatigue. Since there’s no objective way to measure fatigue in people with MS, it can be challenging to assess, understand, treat and manage.

Fatigue can be short-lived for some people with MS, occurring during relapses, stressful periods, after taking medications or as a symptom of an unrelated infection or illness. For others, it can be chronic and ongoing, regardless of how much rest they get.

MS fatigue is thought to be a result of a range of factors caused directly by MS (primary fatigue) and the effects of living with MS (secondary fatigue).

The body uses nerves to send messages between the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body. MS can damage these connective signals, making your body need more energy to function. This can lead to what’s known as ‘primary fatigue’.

Secondary fatigue comes from the effects of living with MS, such as:

  • pain
  • tremors and muscle spasms
  • incontinence
  • depression
  • MS medication.

It can also be triggered by stress, poor diet, infection or inactivity, which can go hand-in-hand with a MS diagnosis.

'MS fatigue' vs. feeling fatigued

Life can get busy, so it’s natural to sometimes feel run down or exhausted. This can come from stress at home or at work, a poor diet and a lack of exercise, or even just a rough night’s sleep.

The difference between feeling fatigued and MS fatigue is that MS fatigue doesn’t go away with rest. MS fatigue can be chronic, ongoing and can make it harder to engage in work, life and daily tasks.

We’re here to give you the information, support and services to help you manage MS fatigue and any other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Managing MS fatigue

If you’re experiencing MS fatigue, there are some strategies to feel more energised during the day:

  • take frequent rest breaks
  • block out your calendar/day into chunks
  • plan, prioritise tasks and pace yourself
  • eat a healthy and balanced diet (avoiding processed foods and those that are high in sugar)
  • drink enough water
  • keep your body moving with regular physical activity
  • resist overcommitting to social events with friends and family
  • exercise in cooler environments and avoid overheating
  • try to get quality sleep.

MS fatigue and work

Being diagnosed with MS doesn’t mean the end of your career. In fact, even with symptoms like fatigue, you can still thrive in the workplace with a few minor changes. Learn about how you can modify your day and tasks to maximise your energy levels and productivity at work.

This page has been reviewed and approved by Executive Manager Client Engagement and Wellbeing Jodi Haartsen. Jodi is a registered MS Nurse who has helped thousands of patients over her 20 years’ experience at Eastern Health MS service in Australia, in several roles including nurse educator, research nurse and nurse practitioner. Jodi is the 2022 winner of the global MS Brain Health Leader Award in the Independent Healthcare Professionals category.

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