Whether the Weather

I had lunch with a captive rheumatologist during a recent RD-related conference. We chit-chatted about this and that, including the lovely, unseasonably warm East-coast weather we’d enjoyed for the last few days.

Impact of weather on RA: What does a rheumatologist have to say?

It was a perfect segue into a subject near and dear to my heart: how the weather can affect the joints of rheumatoid disease patients. So, I popped the question: can it? Can the weather really cause joint pain? I expected her to be non-committal. After all, there’s no solid scientific evidence one way or the other.

But the doctor surprised me. In her experience, she said, many people with RD have more joint pain in the autumn and spring. “They [the scientists] should stop by my office in the fall!” she said. “My waiting room is always full of achy patients who’d be happy to talk to them about it.”

Well, how ‘bout that?

My experience with weather and my RA

The weather has always aggravated my joints. For me, the time of year has never mattered. Instead, the rise and fall of the barometer, which measures atmospheric pressure, seems to affect the comfort in my joints.

Both the weather and rheumatoid disease are unpredictable and infinitely changeable. I asked the doctor what it is about the weather that causes the increased pain, in her opinion.

She allowed that it could be pressure changes. Human beings are made, after all, of mostly water, and atmospheric pressure makes it expand and contract. I’ve noticed this when I put artificial tears in my RD-related dry eyes: some days, the drops are small, dense, and contained. Other days, they’re fat, large, and runny, and more of the drop ends up running down my cheek than in my eye.

A falling or low barometer allows fluids to expand. Synovial fluid lubricates and nourishes the joints. Might it not be, like those eye drops, that the fluid inside them also expands, creating more pressure inside the joint? And thus, more pain?

Cooling and cold weather, along with wet weather, also go with a falling or low barometer. While cool temps alone don’t aggravate my joints, cold air flowing directly on them does. So, if it’s cold out and I don’t wear gloves, every joint in my hand lets me know how displeased it is.

The role of humidity in exacerbating RA symptoms

My rheumatologist lunch companion also mentioned humidity, which seems to make a lot of people who have RD achy. Her practice is on the Eastern seaboard, which comes in for a lot of humidity during different seasons of the year. I can only imagine how her RD patients feel when the barometer drops, the cold weather floods in, and the humidity rises.

Joint pain isn’t as conspicuously associated with warm, dry weather and a rising or high barometer, though those of us who live in areas “blessed” with those conditions might not agree.

RA makes me a human barometer

As I mentioned earlier, all the barometer has to do is rise appreciably or fall appreciably, and my joints let me know. It can be hot and sunny outside, mid-summer, but if the barometer inches up ever higher (as it does, relentlessly in California), I feel it. Sometimes I hurt the worst when the conditions, for arthritis, at least, are perfect.

The same thing happens when the barometer falls. In autumn and winter, the California valley’s rainy season, the weather gradually cools, the humidity rises, and the barometer falls. I don’t mind the moisture—by the time it finally cools off and rains, here, I’m ready to worship it—but the fall in pressure makes itself apparent by making my joints ache.

I’m just an all-weather grrl.

And as to the doc’s anecdote about her patients hurting more in spring and fall? Here again, there’s no real scientific data to back it up, but it stands to reason. Both seasons are notoriously changeable, with the weather see-sawing between rain and shine, warm and cold, dry, and wet, high pressure to low pressure and back again until it finally evens out into winter or summer. If these things really influence our joints—and I believe they do—then it’s no surprise that her waiting room fills up.

Fall is here in full force and yes, winter is coming. Stay warm, stay dry, and smile. And remember: it will change.

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