Influence of temperature changes on multiple sclerosis: critical review of mechanisms and research potential

J Neurol Sci. 1995 Mar;129(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/0022-510x(94)00248-m.


In 1890, Uhthoff studied multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who developed amblyopia following exercise, a phenomenon later discovered to be secondary to elevated body temperature from muscular activity. Six decades later, the hot bath test and various other heating reactions (HR) began to be used diagnostically. They were essentially discontinued after 1983, being replaced by more specific and safer tests and procedures. Over 80% of MS patients develop a panoply of neurological signs during hyperthermia, 60% of which are "new" to that patient. The literature contains a number of unexplained paradoxical responses of MS patients during induced hyperthermia. These challenge the current hypothesis that, in MS, hyperthermia induces a heat-linked neuro-blockade of partially demyelinated axons. Some MS patients developed signs before temperature elevations occurred; others showed clearing of signs while temperatures were elevated or were ascending. Several MS patients improved for about 3 hours after being tested, a rebound phenomenon known as "overshoot." Conversely, other MS patients developed persistent neurological deficits after hyperthermia. The etiology of HR may be multifactorial. This includes heat itself, effects of serum calcium, blockade of ion channels, circulatory changes, heat shock proteins, and unidentified humoral substances. Research techniques are suggested to continue investigations into the enigma of HR, hopefully to widen knowledge of demyelination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amblyopia / etiology
  • Body Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Hyperthermia, Induced
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Neurology / methods
  • Neurology / trends
  • Ophthalmology / methods
  • Ophthalmology / trends