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How Barometric Pressure Affects Arthritis

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/27/2010

Some arthritis sufferers believe their symptoms worsen when the weather changes. What is the relationship between arthritis and barometric pressure?

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    Ask anyone who suffers from arthritis, and they’ll tell you certain types of weather make their symptoms worse. Some swear that cold or wet days worsen their joint aches and pains, and they feel some sense of relief when warm, dry weather returns.

    Others say their arthritis fluctuates with changes in barometric pressure, the pressure exerted by the weight of the atmosphere on the earth. When barometric pressure is low or high, their symptoms worsen. Is there a relationship between arthritis and barometric pressure changes?

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    Barometric Pressure and Arthritis: Is There an Association?

    According to a study published in Anesthesiology News in 2005, changes in barometric pressure do influence arthritis symptoms. After studying 205 arthritis sufferers across the nation via a randomized, controlled study, they found that arthritis pain increased with decreases in temperature and with a rise in barometric pressure. Interestingly, barometric pressure goes up on dry, sunny days when you would intuitively expect arthritis sufferers to experience less pain, not more.

    Why would increases in barometric pressure worsen arthritis pain? One theory is that rises in barometric pressure increase pressure in the joint spaces leading to worsening inflammation and pain.

    Not all studies show an association between barometric pressure and arthritis. Some suggest that barometric pressure has little or no effect on joint symptoms in people with arthritis, but many of these studies are small and believed to be flawed, according to experts who still believe that barometric pressure plays a role in arthritis pain.

    Other studies suggest that it’s actually decreases in barometric pressure that trigger arthritis pain. A drop in barometric pressure could cause tissues that are inflamed by arthritis to expand even more, thereby aggravating the pain. This would support claims by people that their arthritis symptoms worsen when it’s cold, rainy or damp outside.

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    The Results are Conflicting

    With so much conflicting information, it’s hard to draw any solid conclusions about arthritis and barometric pressure and the effect one has on the other. It may depend upon the type of arthritis a person has – whether it’s osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. There’s also the possibility that mental outlook has something to do with it. Barometric pressure drops in cold, damp weather are conditions that could make a person feel “down” and, possibly, more aware of their symptoms. The other possibility is the effects of barometric pressure on arthritis symptoms vary with the individual.

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    The Bottom Line

    Does barometric affect arthritis symptoms? It’s difficult to say since various studies have reached differing conclusions. Some doctors recommend that arthritis patients keep a symptom diary along with a record of the barometric pressure and temperature to see how the weather affects them. Regardless of whether or not weather or barometric affects arthritis; there are medications available to treat the pain and discomfort of this common condition.

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    References

    Medical News Today. “Does Weather Affect Arthritis Pain?”

    Anesthesiology News. “Increases in Barometric Pressure Found to Trigger Arthritis Pain”.

    Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.