“I’m tired!” “When I wake up, all I want to do is go back to sleep.” “I feel like I have narcolepsy!”

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients will likely have said these phrases at some point. All of this sounds like standard fatigue issues. After all, excessive tiredness is probably the most common symptom of this chronic illness. However, to assume the fatigue associated with MS is normal tiredness would be a big mistake. When your MS patient talks about being tired, listen closely, you will hear the definition of lassitude. 

Lassitude is a type of fatigue uniquely associated with MS. While it is defined in dictionaries as a synonym for tiredness or fatigue, it is quite a bit more than that. The University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Multiple Sclerosis Care and Research notes that lassitude: 

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  • generally occurs daily  
  • may occur early in the morning, even after a restful night’s sleep 
  • tends to worsen as the day progresses 
  • tends to be aggravated by heat and humidity 
  • comes on easily and suddenly 
  • is generally more severe than normal fatigue and more likely to interfere with daily responsibilities 

Lassitude interferes with many MS patients to the point that they are unable to work and are forced to leave their jobs. Personal relationships can suffer as well due to consistent absences from important events. Living life while exhausted is not an easy task. 

When I first experienced lassitude, it was during the hot days of August. I was thirsty. I wanted a glass of water. I could not move. It was not a matter of muscle spasticity. I just could not muster the energy to get off of the couch to get water. So, I just sat there wanting a glass of water that I simply could not get. I was too tired. My mind was quite aware of what was happening. It was a type of fatigue that I had never experienced. For a long time, I assumed that I was to blame for being extremely run down. If I had only gone to bed earlier or taken care to sleep better, I would not be as sleepy during the day. If that was not the case, then I must be lazy. 

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I became obsessed with finding out what I needed to do to help myself. I was still falling asleep during the day. I cannot count the number of times my cellphone dropped out of my hands, landing on the floor with a thud. There were many instances where I woke up as I was falling. I have had a bruised chin, swollen knees, and an injured arm. These injuries and more were caused by lassitude. Luckily, I am not falling asleep while driving. This would make me a danger to others on the road as well as myself. 

Lassitude is among the most serious symptoms of MS. The potential for serious injury makes MS fatigue far more debilitating than the standard tiredness of a bad night’s sleep. It is important to probe for more information when a person living with MS describes being tired. Ask if their tiredness is interfering with their lives. Are they falling asleep suddenly? Do they miss activities because they are tired? Do they consider themselves lazy because of fatigue? 

Probing for more information can spotlight the issue of lassitude as the source of a problem. Following up on questions about fatigue could not only improve an MS patient’s quality of life, but it could also be a lifesaver.