Rheumatoid arthritis climate
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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Some people notice that their arthritis gets worse when there is a sudden change in the weather.
However, there is no evidence that a specific climate can prevent or reduce the effects of rheumatoid arthritis. Moving to a new place with a different climate usually does not make a long-term difference in a person’s rheumatoid arthritis.
Patients with arthritis often claim that they can predict weather changes. To examine this point, many years ago at the University of Pennsylvania medical school, J. Hollander M.D. built a climate chamber and used volunteer patients as his study controls. He was able to prove with certainty, that the combination of high humidity and low barometric pressure definitely were associated with increased joint aching and stiffness. This makes sense. Arthritic joints are inflamed and under pressure because of increased joint fluid. If you lower the barometric pressure, the inflamed joint will swell, stretching the inflamed joint lining and capsule.
According to a 1985 study conducted by Dr. John H. Sibley of the University of Saskatchewan, there is no significant correlation between arthritis symptoms and 13 features of the weather. His experiment lasted one month and involved 70 people, half of whom had osteoarthritis and half of whom had rheumatoid arthritis. In his study, all recorded their pain and the weather changes in detailed diary entries.
“I don’t argue the fact with arthritis clients who say they are weather sensitive,” he says. “I ask them to keep a diary of the effects of weather on the pain they feel, asking them to be objective in the process. And I explain that cold weather causes the body’s muscles to tighten, which naturally puts extra strain on mobility. I also point out that when there’s a nasty storm raging outside and the client is feeling the pain of an inflammation flare, he’s likely to make a direct correlation between the weather and the pain. On a beautiful day, however, when the patient is coping with equally difficult pain, the weather isn’t blamed for the condition.”
Given Sibley’s experience in weather research, it’s not surprising that he’s skeptical about moving because of the weather: “I advise extreme caution to people with arthritis seeking relief from pain by moving to another climate zone, stressing that there is the same prevalence of arthritis pain in Canada as anywhere else – including United States’ desert areas.”
In another 1985 experiment, Dutch scientists examined the symptoms of 88 patients with rheumatoid arthritis for one year. The people with arthritis kept a diary of their joint symptoms from day-to-day while the investigators kept track of weather conditions. After the one year period, the investigators tried to find a relationship between the patients' symptoms and the weather. It was found that during the summer months, people with rheumatoid arthritis had increased pain when temperatures decreased and humidity increased. Another Dutch experiment, published in 1986, used an instrument to measure joint stiffness in 122 people with rheumatoid arthritis compared to 101 without arthritis. As expected, people with rheumatoid arthritis had more joint stiffness than those without arthritis. Among those with rheumatoid arthritis, increased joint inflammation was associated with increased stiffness. People with rheumatoid arthritis also had increased stiffness when humidity increased.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology described the influence of humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, temperature and windiness on arthritis pain. Nineteen people with rheumatoid arthritis were studied during a winter month. Increased humidity, cloudiness and decreased temperature all made symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis worse. In this study 69% of the patients were weather sensitive.
Sixty-two people with arthritis were examined in Israel to determine if there was a relationship between weather and arthritis symptoms. There were 16 people with rheumatoid arthritis, 24 with osteoarthritis and 11 with fibromyalgia. The other people had a variety of arthritis diseases including: undefined inflammatory arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, Behcet's disease and systemic lupus erythematosus. Twenty-five percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis, 83% of people with osteoarthritis, 77% of individuals with fibromyalgia and 64% of those with other types of arthritis were weather sensitive. Women were more sensitive to weather changes than men (62% versus 37%). Temperature changes, rain and fluctuation of barometric pressure influenced the joint pain of individuals with osteoarthritis. Barometric pressure and temperature had more of an effect on those with rheumatoid arthritis. Eighty percent of people with osteoarthritis and 83% of people with fibromyalgia could predict rain accurately. About three quarters of people with other types of arthritis could predict rain.
There have been additional studies that have shown similar results.
While many physicians remain skeptical about the effect of weather on arthritis, there is definitely a link that remains to be explored. For sure, many of my patients definitely feel there is.
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