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Arthritis and Weather

Can arthritis pain predict the weather? Are weather and health problems related? The medical evidence is unclear.

A Psychological Explanation continued...

Using this same logic, one instance of an arthritis flare-up coincidentally taking place before a storm might be all it takes for someone to become convinced that there is a direct connection between his or her symptoms and the weather.

"We want to find a reason for our pain, but sometimes we can't," says Weisberg. "And so the weather is one of the easiest things to blame." All you have to do is look up to find your suspect.

Driscoll agrees. "If you convince yourself that there is a relationship between the weather and your pain, then by golly, there is one," he tells WebMD. "As the barometer lowers, and the clouds approach, and the wind picks up, if you think that your arthritis ought to be acting up, it will."

Although Weisberg is generally a skeptic, he finds the desire to believe in the connection very strong even in himself. "I try to tell my patients that there really isn't evidence that weather has a big effect even if they think it does," he says. "But it's hard, because in the back of mind, there's still this strong feeling that there really is something to it."

The Silver Lining

Despite the failures by researchers to find a strong connection between weather and health, Driscoll notes that hope springs eternal. "And that's sort of ironic, because we certainly don't want the weather to be that effective in ordaining our illnesses," he says.

Despite the disagreements, almost everyone concurs that the effects of weather on chronic pain conditions is mild at worst and nonexistent at best. Either way, it doesn't matter that much.

Because of this, even if you have severe pain associated with the weather, experts recommend that you should be very careful before deciding to follow the folk wisdom and move to a climate that is drier and warmer. "I have patients who go down south for the winter and they feel great for the first few months," says Weisberg. "But then their body acclimates to that weather pattern and they start feeling just like they did before."

Besides, the possibility of environmental benefits to changing climates might be outweighed by the psychological stress -- and the physical pain that might develop as a result of that stress -- of reestablishing yourself in a new place, according to Wilder.

Weisberg and Driscoll offer some practical advice. "Since there's not much people can do about the weather. They should just work on the things that they can change," says Weisberg.

Driscoll agrees. "If weather has any influence at all on pain conditions, it's a very small one," he says. "And since we can't do anything about it anyway, why worry about it?"

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Reviewed on June 09, 2003

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