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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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