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Can Achy Joints Really Predict the Weather?

Posted on 10/16/2013 by | Personal Health and Well-being | Comments

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lightningMy grandma swore by her arthritic knee. When it throbbed, she said it meant the weather was about to change. My husband, on the other hand, maintains he can predict rain because the incoming weather front gives him a headache.

Is there any truth to these claims? Can the change in weather pressure really trigger physical pain?

The Wall Street Journal recently tackled this subject by asking scientists if there was some factual evidence behind all the tales of weather-related pain. So many people claim they’re affected by changes in the weather, but scientists still don’t understand the exact mechanism involved, the newspaper reported.

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For arthritis pain, the leading theory is that the falling barometric pressure that frequently precedes a storm alters the pressure inside joints, experts told the Journal.

“Think of a balloon that has as much air pressure on the outside pushing in as on the inside pushing out,” said Robert Jamison, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesia and pain management at Harvard Medical School, who has studied the effects of weather on chronic-pain patients. As the outside climate pressure changes, it causes a pressure imbalance that affects already irritated nerves in the joint. “That’s probably the effect people are feeling,” Jamison added.

There are obviously enough people convinced that there is a link between achy joints and a change in the weather, because the Weather Channel has a map showing an Aches & Pains Index for the country; plug in your zip code and see the likelihood of sore joints in your area. The Arthritis Foundation has a link to a similar service from AccuWeather’s Arthritis Index.

Here are some conditions that seem to be aggravated by weather.

Migraines, headaches Not only air pressure changes but also electromagnetic charges may trigger brain pain. Migraine and headache sufferers had a 31 percent increase in headaches when lightning struck within 25 miles, a study earlier this year by the University of Cincinnati found. (In other words, my husband is right.)

Arthritis The decrease in barometric pressure right before the weather changes seems to cause tissues to swell, putting pressure on the joint or pressing against irritated nerves, said Harvard’s Jamison, although results from scientific studies to prove this connection have been mixed.

Heart attacks, blood pressure Cold weather is linked to both heart risk factors and more heart attacks, according to two 2013 European studies. Heart attack risk in older adults rises 7 percent for every 18-degree-Fahrenheit drop in the outside temperature, perhaps because cold weather promotes blood clots, researchers said.

Fibromyalgia Pain and stiffness brought on by cold weather and weather changes were listed as a top complaint among sufferers in a study by the National Fibromyalgia Association, although researchers have been unable to find solid evidence of the association.

Gout Hot, humid weather is the culprit for gout sufferers because sweating can cause dehydration, which raises the level of uric acid in the blood, triggering flare-ups.

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Photo: Axel Rouvin/flickr

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