How Does Cold Weather Affect RA?

You’ve probably heard that people with various forms of arthritis have long been said to be able to predict the weather. Whether it’s a bum knee acting up when a rainstorm is on the horizon or, worse yet, a full-fledged rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flare when a blizzard hits, many of those with RA swear the weather has a negative impact on their conditions.

Scott Harbaugh, a meteorologist from WPXI News in Pittsburgh, explains that winter weather could have an impact on arthritic conditions.

“For years it has been known that changes in air pressure can affect the body,” said Harbaugh. “In cases like arthritis, sore joints, or muscular difficulties, these changes can easily cause excess pain to a person.”

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Weather is a prevalent topic of conversation on various arthritis social networks and online forums. It’s especially popular during the winter months when a lot of the United States experiences cooler temperatures and more variations in temperature and air pressure. At the beginning of this month, an informal Facebook survey on the topic was posted on the official Arthritis Ashley page. Out of 35 respondents, most reported that weather impacted their symptoms in some way or another. 


But s 1999 pain study said that, “rheumatoid arthritis patients show weather sensitivity in daily life, but the relationship is not clinically significant.” The study found that while the majority of RA patients reported that the weather impacted their symptoms, various other studies on the topic have yielded unclear results.

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Some doctors and researchers are more open to the idea of cold weather affecting RA symptoms. Dr. James Fant, associate professor of medicine and director of rheumatology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, said in a statement to the press: “At first I doubted because there was not a lot of scientific evidence to support the correlation between arthritic symptoms and the weather. But I've been practicing for nearly 20 years and I've heard it so often from so many patients that I know there's something to it. I may not be able to explain the exact mechanism — whether they're humidity or differences in the barometric pressure and how they translate into causing symptoms," he said. “But I believe there is a connection simply because I've heard too many patients tell me that they are absolutely sure when it's going to rain because their knees will hurt more.”

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While the quantitative evidence may still be up in the air, it seems that the qualitative evidence points to a trend: cooler weather and variations in barometric pressure have an impact on the physical symptoms of many people with RA. Still, the exact triggers vary from person to person. Some say that precipitation causes flare-ups, while others blame drastic changes in temperature. 

Of course, while many people with RA complain about how they feel in cold weather, there are some who are more symptomatic in warmer climates. As with anything — including the weather — RA flares are not easy to predict or forecast, and can change like the wind.