Arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory disease that primarily affects the joints. People afflicted with arthritis and other autoimmune diseases that affect the joints such as lupus often experience increased pain levels on dreary, rainy days.
Those suffering from rheumatism complain of this strange phenomenon, and those who suffer from inflammatory diseases tend to experience the same. If you know these days exist, can you use weather patterns to predict when you will be at higher risk for suffering arthritis pain?
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a chronic, autoimmune illness wherein the human body goes haywire and starts attacking healthy tissue; in the case of arthritis, the body parts most affected are the joints, such as knees, hips and hands. According to the US National Library of Medicine, there are many different types of arthritis such as: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, commonly just called “lupus”).
There is no cure for arthritis. Being a chronic condition, arthritis is something that most people will live with the rest of their lives. There are treatments available, and remission is possible, but the disease itself will never go away. It can attack at any age and render a person disabled. Managing arthritis pain is an important aspect of a patient’s life. The ability to adequately manage pain is the difference between living a full life, enjoying your favorite activities and being bed-ridden.
Current methods for managing arthritis pain
The most common method of managing arthritis pain is NSAIDS, such as naproxen. For more advanced cases, doctors may prescribe corticosteroids or new, biologic medicines. The goal of all of these treatments is to reduce inflammation, which causes not only joint pain but joint damage.
Logic stands to reason that if we could predict when high pain days might occur, doctors could better treat joint pain.
How weather affects joint pain in patients with inflammatory illnesses
The effects of weather on joint pain is still debated by some experts, however patients with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, and the health professionals that treat them, notice that there is an increased incidence of joint pain on rainy days. While it sounds bizarre, the phenomenon has been long documented; Robert N. Jamison, PHD in his Influence of Weather on Report of Pain, stated that the ancient physician Hippocrates noted that a change in season influenced pain all the way back in 400 BC, which is interesting, because in many climes, autumn and spring bring with them a lot of rain.
Rainy weather patterns are usually accompanied by something called “low barometric pressure”, sometimes called “low atmospheric pressure”. The latter term is more self-explanatory: low barometric pressure means there is low pressure in the atmosphere. Low pressure weather systems often accompany rain storms. Some of the lowest pressure symptoms are responsible for tornadoes; due to this markedly decreased amount of pressure, weather pain may become even more noticeable.
The exact reasons for low barometric pressure leading to pain are unknown, but Dr. James Fant, quoted in an article by University Specialty Clinics, gave a very simple explanation for one theory: Asking the reader to imagine an inflamed joint, Fant said, “If the barometric pressure is decreased, then that would allow the inflamed tissue to swell more, simply because there is less atmospheric pressure holding the tissue back. If there are nerves in that tissue, then those nerves would be stimulated by that swelling and that would translate into pain.”
When put into those simple terms, it’s easy to understand why a fall in barometric pressure might cause pain. Thanks to weather models provided by outlets such as weather.com, it’s easy to know when the pressure is low in your area as well as when a storm bringing low pressure might arrive.
What you can do when you know low barometric pressure is headed your way
Most importantly, you should talk to your doctor. Having a great relationship with your healthcare provider is important for anyone, but vital if you have a chronic condition such as arthritis. You and your provider can talk about ways to reduce pain when weird weather is headed your way.
Aside of medication, your doctor might prescribe hot or cold packs to sooth your aching joints. The goal in treating weather-related pain is to mitigate if not counteract its affects. If you find that cold weather is causing your joints to ache, a warm rag on an aching knee might be just the ticket.