Arthritis and Weather
Can arthritis pain predict the weather? Are weather and health problems related? The medical evidence is unclear.
The Science continued...
Weisberg is similarly skeptical. "Everyone believes in this
connection throughout the ages, but there doesn't seem to be real evidence for
it," he says. "There have been anecdotal studies, a few case reports, a
smattering of literature here and there. Interest in the subject perks up
occasionally and then dies down when nothing is found."
There has been some work that showed a possible connection.
Believers typically cite a famous study conducted in Philadelphia in the '60s
by researcher John Hollander. In the study, Hollander isolated several patients
with rheumatoid arthritis in a sealed chamber and gradually adjusted the
atmospheric conditions. He found some evidence that swelling and stiffness
increased with a rise in humidity and a drop in barometric pressure.
So since most studies of the connection between painful
conditions and weather have not found meaningful results, why do people keep
coming back to it?
Part of the problem with studying the relationship between
weather and health is in the sheer number of possible atmospheric conditions --
including barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, precipitation, and so on
-- and in the possible symptoms. There's also a great deal of difference in how
people say they feel the weather relates to their pain. Some say the pain
precedes a weather change, others say that they coincide, and still others say
that it follows them. The variety of combinations may be one of the reasons
that researchers keep returning to the subject. There's always that chance that
the right combination of conditions or symptoms haven't been studied.
"I think the fact that this 'myth' has persisted far longer
than many others makes me wonder if there really is something to it," says
Wilder, whose recent study did not turn up any statistically meaningful
connections between osetoarthritis and weather changes. "I think it's
possible science hasn't caught up with the anecdotal evidence."
But Wilder agrees that the evidence is shaky and that other
explanations are possible.
A Psychological Explanation
There are other possibilities for the apparent connection
between weather and pain. For instance, Driscoll and Weisberg argue that people
may tend toward gloominess on rainy days, and that their bad mood may make
their pain more difficult to bear.
The possibility that psychology plays a role in shaping our
responses to weather and pain doesn't mean that the pain isn't real or that
weather isn't having an effect.. Weisberg speculates about the numerous
indirect connections that could be made between weather and health; for
instance, might a gloomy day make people unhappy and stay in bed longer,
causing them to feel more stiff?
There may be deeper psychological processes at work. Everyone's
been struck by a feeling of apparent clairvoyance when we happen to be thinking
about an old friend who calls on the phone a few minutes later. What we don't
remember are the countless times that our reminiscing doesn't result in that