Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms are a mystery for most of us living with this chronic illness. We understand the basics about the spinal cord and myelin sheath and brain lesions. At least we try to. Or pretend to. We are told to be on the lookout for new symptoms or a cluster of them. We dread the possible exacerbation. If we are lucky, we can turn this disease into a traveling buddy along for the ride on our journey. 

The problem with symptom watching is that it requires us to know them all and how they might appear in our daily lives. It also means we have to distinguish MS symptoms from things that are a normal part of living. I learned this lesson for myself the semi-soft way when something I experienced previously was not what it quite seemed. 

When you live somewhere with 4 seasons you get the joy of winter for 3 months. That is theoretically since the other 3 seasons rarely agree to split the year evenly. For those cold days, it is normal to feel chilly. That’s what hot beverages and blankets are for. Warm the hands and cuddle up against the cold. When I started getting cold hands it made sense. Cold weather, cold hands. That was par for the course until we got a spurt of really warm temperatures in the middle of winter. 

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No snow and mid-60s temperature, but my hands were cold. I pressed them against my face to gauge how chilly they were. They were freezing. At least I thought they were. Both my left and right hands felt chillier than they should. After a few moments, I realized that they were not cold in the same way. One hand was icy cold and the other was, in fact, warm. This was not what I expected and I could not account for why. Then it occurred to me: my hands were not cold; the nerves in my hand were tingly. It was the MS. 

Before I made the leap to an MS causation, I had a backup. I asked my mom to hold my hands. I wanted to have an objective opinion. With no way to measure the heat coming off my hands, I needed to have confirmation of my perception. It took seconds for her to agree that my left and right hands were vastly different temperatures. Tucking the cold hand under my arm for warmth I looked for information. 

A quick, cursory look online told me that cold hands were a common issue for patients with MS. The real deal was asking my MS healthcare professional. I logged into my app and sent a message. It was not only important to learn more, but it was to keep them in the loop regarding my health and MS symptoms. I was uninterested in how it came to be that I had hands like the failed McDonald’s McDLT sandwich. This side hot, that side cool. I cared about the fact I might have missed a new symptom but for the fact, it was not bilateral. 

MS symptoms do not exist in a bubble. They are not ones that cannot be mimicked by other diseases and illnesses. They hide in plain sight by sneaking behind common bodily happenings. Cold hands happen for a lot of reasons. It is reasonably sound to believe that cold extremities are cold from the weather. 

However, when it comes to patients with MS, nothing is off the table. Healthcare professionals need to be perceptive when asking how their patients are doing. Poke a bit to see if there might be symptoms that are being shrugged off or attributed to another cause. As it turns out my cold hands weren’t. I may not technically have cold hands, but my heart is cozy warm with knowledge.