Fibromyalgia & Weather Changes: Is There a Link?

Opinions Are Mixed

Woman using phone while it's snowing
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Do you think weather has an impact on your fibromyalgia symptoms? What kind of weather makes you feel worse?

When asked that first question, a whole lot of people with fibromyalgia (and other pain conditions) say "Yes!" When asked the second, answers vary greatly.

If you talk to your doctor about the impact of weather on how you feel, you could get any number of reactions—anything from, "I see that in a lot of my patients" to "That's an old wives' tale."

So what's the deal? Do weather changes have a negative impact on us or not?

Weather & Fibromyalgia: A Common Complaint

We don't have a ton of research on the impact of weather on fibromyalgia symptoms, but we do have a handful of studies. In addition, we can look to research on weather's effect on other pain conditions, such as arthritis and migraine, that have been studied for a lot longer.

A large internet survey of nearly 2,600 people with fibromyalgia helps shed some light on this relationship. This was a general survey, not one specifically looking for weather-related information.

When asked what things appeared to make their symptoms worse, a whopping 80 percent of respondents said "weather changes."

Not only is that a large number, it was the second-most reported worsening factor, coming in only after "emotional distress" (83 percent), and above "sleeping problems" (79 percent), "strenuous activity" (70 percent), and "mental stress" (68 percent).

An interesting thing about those top five perceived triggers is we know for a fact that four of them have a negative impact on how severe our symptoms are. It's been studied, observed, and generally accepted as fact. Weather is the only one that's still up in the air.

Weather & Fibromyalgia: The Research

A 2013 study published in Arthritis Care & Research involved 333 women with fibromyalgia.

They had the women answer daily questions about their pain and fatigue, then compared them to meteorological data.

Researchers found a "significant but small" effect on pain or fatigue in about 10 percent of participants. They also found significant but small and inconsistent differences between participants when it came to random effects of weather variables.

They concluded that there's no uniform impact of weather on symptoms, but left open the possibility that weather could have an effect on some, saying:

"[T]hese findings do not rule out the possibility that weather-symptom relationships may exist for individual patients. Some patients may be more sensitive to weather or weather changes than other patients, and some patients may also be affected positively and other patients affected negatively by specific weather conditions."

In fact, they say that they found roughly the same amount of positive associations as negative ones.

A 2017 analysis of Twitter posts appears to confirm the findings against a standard influence of weather on fibromyalgia. (The analysis, in part, used keywords including #fibromyalgia, #fibro, and #spoonie.) Interestingly, they found what appeared to be regional differences in what weather factors bothered people.

For example, they say among the eight states with the most Twitter posts in the analysis, these six revealed no significant correlation between weather and symptoms:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • Texas

In two others, though—California and New York—they found "significant but weak" correlations. In California, it was humidity that bothered people. In New York, it was wind speed.

They concluded that the impact is non-uniform and may vary by region or by individual.

It may seem confusing that the same factor can be positive or negative and that there's nothing consistent about it, but that kind of thing is actually par for the course when talking about fibromyalgia.

Just about everything—including medications, supplements, food, exercise, etc.—is highly individual for us. We each have a unique blend of symptoms and triggers and therefore have a unique response to factors that influence how we feel.

Also, overlapping pain conditions are common in us and may have their own relationship with weather.

Weather & Other Pain Conditions

Research on weather and pain in other conditions, as well as pain in general, are also mixed.

A 2015 study in The Journal of Rheumatology suggests a relationship between humidity and joint pain in osteoarthritis, with humidity in cold weather having a greater impact than in warm weather.

Other studies have suggested relationships between rheumatoid arthritis pain and humidity, as well, while some have linked it to high barometric pressure.

A small 2011 study out of Japan suggested ties between migraine and a drop in barometric pressure.

A 2010 Rheumatology study found that cold weather was associated with more pain, including chronic widespread pain. Researchers stated that, as you'd expect, winter was the worst season, followed by autumn and spring, and that summer was the best season. They noted, however, that part of the relationship between weather and pain could be explained by higher reported exercise, better sleep, and more positive mood on warm, sunny days.

What Can You Do About It?

Let's assume for a moment that weather can have a negative impact on fibromyalgia symptoms and that it's a problem for you. Can you do something to lessen the impact?

If it's cold or heat that's the problem, the obvious solution is trying to stay warm when it's cold out or cool when it's hot. That's easier said than done, though, if you also have temperature sensitivity (a common fibromyalgia symptom) and problems regulating your temperature (also common).

If humidity bothers you, a dehumidifier may help, but only when you're at home. Barometric pressure? Changing weather? There's no easy solution there.

Certainly, if the climate you live in seems inhospitable, it could seem appealing to move somewhere else. The problem is that unless you've spent considerable time there, you won't know how that climate impacts you until you've lived there for a while. It may be that it's too big a gamble for such a drastic measure, especially when you consider the 2010 Rheumatology study, which concluded that "pain is not an inevitable consequence" of climate.

Your best bet may be finding a fibromyalgia treatment that is successful against a wide variety of symptoms and eases the severity of your illness in general.

Sources:

Bennett RM, Jones J, Turk DC, et al. An internet survey of 2,596 people with fibromyalgia. BMC musculoskeletal disorders. 2007 Mar 9;8:27.

Bossema ER, van Middendorp H, Jacobs JW, et al. Influence of weather on daily symptoms of pain and fatigue in female patients with fibromyalgia: a multilevel regression analysis. Arthritis care & research. 2013 Jul;65(7):1019-25. 

Delir Haghighi P, Kang YB, Buchbinder R, et al. Investigating subjective experience and the influence of weather among individuals with fibromyalgia: a content analysis of Twitter. JMIR public health and surveillance. 2017 Jan 19;3(1):e4.

Macfarlane TV, McBeth J, Jones GT, et al. Whether the weather influences pain? Results from the EpiFunD study in north west England. Rheumatology. 2010 Aug;49(8):1513-20.

Timmermans EJ, Schaap LA, Herbolsheimer F, et al. The influence of weather conditions on joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis: results from the European Project on OsteoArthritis. Journal of Rheumatology. 2015 Oct;42(10):1885-92.

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