Weather doesn't affect arthritis

On Call

June 18, 1996|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Can you explain why the arthritis in my hands and knees bothers me more on cool, damp days?

You will not like, and probably will disagree with, the following answer to your question.

For thousands of years patients and physicians alike have been convinced that weather influences arthritis pain. A number of earlier studies produced contradictory findings that showed no clear association between the weather and either patients' complaints of pain or objective evidence of changes in joint inflammation.

Results of a careful study published in April 1996 cast even further doubt on any relationship between arthritis and the weather. Over a 15-month period the researchers evaluated 18 patients with rheumatoid arthritis twice a month for their own reports of joint pain, joint tenderness during a doctor's examination and functional status of their joints. Over the same period of time they compared these joint findings with local weather reports on temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. They found that none of these weather factors correlated with joint pain, tenderness or function, even though all but two of the patients believed that changes in these weather conditions had a strong effect.

It is natural for people to want an explanation for changes in their health. Given the popular belief that weather affects arthritis, the authors of the report speculate that arthritis patients look for weather changes to explain any increase in pain and tend to ignore the weather when their joints don't hurt as much. One practical outcome of this study: It's unlikely that arthritis sufferers will benefit from a move to a milder climate.

The authors take a realistic attitude toward their findings. They doubt their results will convince many arthritis patients -- or doctors -- that symptoms are unrelated to weather.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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