The Storms in my Joints
With winter still pummeling large parts of the U.S., it seems like a good time to talk about how the weather may affect rheumatoid arthritis. Because I’m here to tell you, I don’t care what those skeptical scientist/doctor-types say. For an awful lot of us with RA, the weather does have a rather big effect on how we feel.
For me, it’s not so much that it’s hot or cold, or wet or dry. Instead, my joints start yelling when the barometer moves. Yeah, that’s right. All it has to do is rise or fall. And if it gets stuck on rise, I’m in trouble.
In my experience, areas of low pressure mean rain. Areas of high pressure mean sunshine. In California, we have huge, heavy, sluggish ovals of high pressure sitting, on most of the state, most of the time. (It’s why when you watch the weather news, the weather map is blank except for a big H over California, while the rest of the country has big Ls and wind, cloud, and lightning symbols scattered everywhere.) Those high pressure areas block most of the storms coming in off the Pacific Ocean, forcing them to slide north or south and acting like a big ol’ umbrella that keeps us (sigh) nice and dry. And while the high pressure remains, blocking any actual weather, my joints gripe and groan and sometimes, scream.
I have a theory about why high barometric pressure makes my joints feel like they’re being pried apart by crowbars. It has to do with the effect of pressure on liquids. I figured this out one day as I was putting eye drops in my eyes. The drops, when I squeezed them out of the bottle, were big and heavy. One drop flooded my eye, and some of it ran like a tear down my cheek. But just the day before, the drops were compact and tiny, and I’d needed two to lubricate my eye.
It gave me pause. I’ve noticed something similar when I make my coffee with a cone filter and boiling water. One day, I have to fill the filter twice to fill up my 16 oz. go-cup. Another day, I only need to fill the same filter one and a half times to fill the same cup to the same level.
My little brain whirred and chugged. I started checking the local barometric pressure on the Internet each morning before using my eye drops and brewing my coffee. Sure enough, when the barometer was rising, or high, the drops were large and sloppy. I needed less water to brew my go-cup coffee. When it was falling, or low, it was the other way around.
So here’s my theory. Maybe the synovial fluid in my joints expands, just like my eye drops, when the barometer is rising or high. The pressure of the expanding fluid on my inflamed, angry joint tissues causes more pain — in effect, it causes a storm in my joints. And when the pressure is falling or low, so are my pain levels.
Now, I’m not bothered by rainy, wet weather at all, and cold, to me, is just cold. It doesn’t make my joints hurt unless the wind is blowing directly on them. The frigid air conditioning in my car, for instance, hurts my wrists and hands when I drive until I turn the vents away. (Which is aggravating in the scorching Caifornia heat, believe me.) In hot weather (when the barometric pressure is generally high) I hurt more, and all over. But placing heat in the form of heat packs on my hands or other affected joints soothes them anyway, no matter the air temperature. I also hurt more when the weather is hot and humid, but not when it’s cold and humid.
Obviously, this isn’t even close to being scientific. It’s just my observation of how my own body reacts to the weather. Other people feel the opposite effect. When it rains (generally with low barometric pressure) their joints hurt. They feel better when the sun comes out and it gets warm. I wonder, do they still feel better when it’s sunny and cold?
Whatever it is about the weather that causes joints affected by RA to twinge and ache, it seems perfectly obvious that it does, and I’m not alone in feeling it. I’m frustrated by doctors who say there’s no proof when they have patients that are obviously affected. We’re certainly not making it up or imagining it.
How about you? Does my theory make any sense? How does the weather affect your RA joints? Or am I just stirring up a tempest in a teacup?