The Weather: Wreaking Havoc on Health
The weather forecast may be a strong predictor of how you're going to feel.
Migraine Headaches and Weather Changes
Falling barometric pressure, a sharp increase in humidity, a sudden drop in
temperature -- these weather changes may trigger migraines in people already
susceptible to them.
And it appears that stable weather may help reduce the incidence of
migraines. "I had a patient here in New York who moved to Arizona and
experienced an astounding improvement in her migraines," says Richard Lipton,
MD, director of the Montefiore Headache Center. While New Yorkers endure sudden
and frequent changes in humidity levels and temperature, Arizona residents
enjoy fairly uniform conditions marked by dry, warm air.
Research supports the theory that changing weather triggers migraines. In
one survey that asked migraine sufferers to list triggers, 53% responded
Not everyone can move to a different climate so they can feel better. But
migraine sufferers can take some action against weather-induced headaches.
First, Lipton urges his patients to keep a diary of their migraines to make
cause-and-effect connections. Then, if weather changes seem to play a role in
migraines, the next step may be to discuss pretreatment with a doctor to avoid
the onset of pain.
Chilly, Damp Weather Stiffens Joints
While it's unusual for migraine sufferers to move for improved health, it's
not uncommon for people with joint pain to do so -- particularly the elderly.
"A lot of our patients migrate to warmer weather because they cannot tolerate
the pain," says Javad Parvizi, MD, PhD, a joint specialist at the Rothman
Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. In studying the relationship
of weather to arthritic pain in weight-bearing joints, Parvizi says that his
preliminary data show a significant correlation between joint pain and changes
"Baseline pain appears to be strongly affected by a drop in temperature and
a change in humidity. Almost 80% to 90% of patients feel a difference in their
pain's intensity and sensitivity," Parvizi tells WebMD.
Instead of simply reacting to weather-associated increases in joint pain
with measures like placing heating pads over painful joints and doubling up on
analgesics, Parvizi recommends that people use proactive measures to improve
joint function, such as engaging in nonweight-bearing exercises. Other than
that, he admits, "There's not a lot that can be done."
Extreme Temperatures Increase Heart Risk
When asked about the greatest exertion-related risk to patients with heart
disease, cardiologist Steve Pollock, MD, director of St. Joseph's Heart
Institute in Towson, Md., doesn't make a single mention of extreme activities
like bungee jumping or deep-sea diving. "The only restriction I place on
patients with heart disease is this: no shoveling snow," he tells WebMD.
Already, people who suffer from heart disease can have narrowed coronary
arteries. Add to these factors the additional exertion required for shoveling
snow, and the scenario can quickly turn into a dangerous, even deadly, heart