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The old myth of achy joints predicting the weather? More true than we know. Changes in the atmosphere can trigger symptoms and flares for people with rheumatic diseases, including lupus.

Both studies and patients report that the weather and atmospheric conditions can have an impact on lupus and lupus symptoms. Commonly measured phenomenon include:

  • Barometric pressure
    • Also, known as atmospheric pressure, this is the pressure within Earth’s atmosphere
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Cloudiness
    • Typically considered relevant as a proxy for ultraviolet light exposure

Changes in these conditions can lead to common lupus symptoms like joint pain and swelling. They are also known to trigger migraines which are a common symptom of systemic lupus erythematosus. Women were found to be more sensitive to these changes than men.

The weather can even have an impact on your daily spoon count. Energy expenditure in everyday activity and fatigue can also be impacted by changes in the weather. These changes may even lead to full-blown lupus flares.

Many Lupus Warriors have to avoid triggers for their flares throughout their daily lives. Lupus Warriors share their experiences and strategies overcoming the challenges the weather can bring in the LupusCorner Q&A Forum

People react to the weather differently, and it is unclear what causes the differences. It is clear, though, that the temperature, atmospheric pressure, and possibly even ambient sunlight levels can contribute to symptom flares.


Atmospheric Pressure & Pain

Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, is a measure of the pressure of the air above a region at any given time. Atmospheric pressure actually varies somewhat across the planet, too.

Heat from the sun changes the pressure by heating the air and causing it to rise and move; cold air sinks and is ‘heavier.’ Because our planet rotates, areas of heated, light air and cold, heavy air spin and create what we call weather patterns. High pressure systems retain water, and end up with less moisture. On the other hand, low pressure systems are more likely to experience rain.

Storms happen when a high-pressure system meets a low-pressure system and releases the water that it is holding. This change of pressure is rapid. It’s possible for humans to feel the effects of this shift. Many otherwise healthy people get headaches, body aches, fatigue and blue moods from changes in pressure associated with storm fronts. It’s a part of why rainy days can be so miserable.

For people with joint pain, though, atmospheric pressure can feel more intense. Painful joints swell and become more painful, the brain feels the pressure and works less effectively (leading to brain fog). The pressure, along with humidity, can make physical activity and exercise feel extra difficult. It can even increase inflammation from the stress of it. 


The Seasons & Lupus Symptoms

A 2020 study in the research journal Advances in Meteorology explored the link between seasons and health symptoms. 394 people participated in the study by completing an interview with questions about their experiences. The researchers found strong correlations between pain intensity and weather when the temperature, relative humidity, and cloudiness were all consistently high. The results also suggested that winter storms lead to a lower amount of pain, while summer storms are associated with a decrease in pain severity.

Winter is known to be particularly difficult for people with lupus. Cold weather may stress the body out, because less heat is retained and the body needs to use more energy to maintain homeostasis. You can read more about the cold and lupus, here

That said, the heat brings its own challenges. Heat and increased pain can keep people with lupus up at night, preventing them from getting enough sleep. You can read more about sleep problems and lupus, here. A lack of sleep can interfere with overall physical and mental health, and increase stress, making pain symptoms worse.


A Lupus Warrior’s Takeaway

People with lupus are effected by the weather, but it’s something that can be challenging to battle against. So, what can you do about weather and lupus interactions?

Staying inside protects you from sun, rain, wind, humidity, and temperature-related effects. Even inside, atmospheric pressure can remain a challenge. Planning trips to minimize ultraviolet light exposure or using devices to measure your exposure can help.

Some researchers think that it might be a good idea to modify treatments (both medicine and otherwise) for arthritis and other lupus symptoms based on the weather. How, exactly, is unclear and may vary from person-by-person decision. Talk to your lupus treatment team about potential strategies and always work with your clinicians before changing your treatment plan.


What are the options?

Moving to less stormy or warmer climates is an option, but often met with mixed results. Although it can reduce fluctuations in pain. It does not treat the underlying issues and the pain and symptoms will continue.

Documentation is still your friend. Keep track of any activities that help you during these times, or weather conditions that cause flares. You can read a few of them here.

Staying indoors and using an air purifier or a fan to move the air can also help.

Pain medications, including NSAIDs, can help a with emergent pain.

Upping your resting time and water intake can also help.

Self-care, including mindfulness techniques, can help you check in with your body to make sure you are giving yourself the support you need.


Let’s face it: weather changes aren’t going away. But, your preparedness can help make physiological changes less severe. 

Comments (11)

11 thoughts on “The Weather and Lupus Symptoms

    1. Oh my word!! I really do feel better at the beach! I moved from Indiana to south Alabama to go to the beach often. I use umbrellas and sunscreen. The salt water and air helps me so very much.

    2. No, between sun and typical heat makes me exhausted and miserable the rest of day. However even with raynauds I have found either river or mountains even though you still have to be careful wirh evening temperatures and sun

      1. The beach is my enemy. The summer elements outdoors take a toll on me worse then cold. It seems the colder months I have less flares!! Im essentially flared up all summer, staying inside with the AC on is my summer. Even being in a air conditioned car is horrible as long as that sun is shining. I feel.like Dracula with the sun!! Really bothers my eyes, I become overheated very easily so ive come to terms with staying indoors while everyone has a life in the summer. Needless to say for me, im glad we are having a cold autumn and winter is coming!! I just function better!! Best wishes everyone!!!

      1. I flare more in the winter, I get depressed knowing winter is right around the corner. I feel so much better in the summer and my vacation at the beach I feel on top of the world. As of now I don’t have problems with skin from UV exposure. The salt air helps me in so many ways. Down the shore for a couple weeks all my water retention disappeared. Being back home for a couple days I swelled right back up

  1. This article was very informative. I was wondering why I have enjoyed the summer so much more after my Lupus symptoms began. I, too, have had so much relief at the beach and had thought it was due to less stress there. I struggle trying to get through sand because my legs feel like sandbags, but otherwise my symptoms really seem to improve. I searched barometric pressure thus finding this info. It’s been a nasty, cloudy day near Atlanta and I have been miserable!

  2. Loved this article ! Found it to be so Informative and right on with my flares and triggers .
    For me I’ve also noticed winter months are the worse and the joint pain is excruciating that I’m literally wrapped around my heating blanket.
    We always used to travel to the beach for January but with this traveling restrictions I’m left with seating around my fireplace with a warm blanket and a warm drink.
    Thanks again for such a great article!

  3. I grew up near water and loving the hot and steamy summers. I am sad to say that Lupus has changed that for me. Now the heat and humidity cause flu-like symptoms and the sun is painful. I always thought I would retire to a beach in the south, but now I am looking to the Pacific Northwest and know that I will feel so much better there. Thank you for supporting what my body has been telling me for years!

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