The Link Between Fibromyalgia and Weather Changes

Research is slim, but many people with fibromyalgia have noticed a link

Many people with fibromyalgia say weather sensitivity is part of the condition. However, when you ask what kind of weather affects them most, the answers vary greatly.

If you talk to your healthcare provider 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 do weather changes have a negative impact or not?

woman looking tired sitting on sofa
Tara Moore / Getty Images

Weather & Fibromyalgia

The relationship between weather and fibromyalgia was the focus of a large internet survey of nearly 2,600 people with fibromyalgia. This was a general survey, not one specifically looking for weather-related information. When asked what things appeared to make their symptoms worse, 80% of respondents said "weather changes."

Weather was the second-most reported worsening factor. The top five perceived triggers were:

  • Emotional distress - 83%
  • Weather changes - 80%
  • Sleeping problems - 79%
  • Strenuous activity - 70%
  • Mental stress - 68%

All of those but weather have been studied and found to be significant symptom triggers.

What the Research Reveals

Researchers haven't spent a lot of time looking into the impact of weather on fibromyalgia symptoms, but they have done a handful of studies.

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 five (10%) of the 50 different weather comparisons they performed. 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:

"These 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 par for the course when talking about fibromyalgia.

Just about everything—including medications, supplements, food, and exercise—is highly individual for people with fibromyalgia. Each person has a unique blend of symptoms and triggers and therefore has a unique response to factors that influence how they feel. Also, overlapping pain conditions are common and may have their own relationship with the weather.

Weather and Other Pain Conditions

Research on weather and pain in other conditions, as well as pain in general, is 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 a 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 a more positive mood on warm, sunny days.

Why Weather Affects Symptoms

No one knows for sure why weather appears to trigger pain in fibromyalgia or other conditions. One theory involves barometric pressure changes.

Barometric pressure, or air pressure, is the weight of air pressing down on the earth (and everything on it, including you.) Rising air leads to low pressure while sinking air leads to high pressure.

Falls in barometric pressure cause tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc.) to expand. Any expansion inside the body, where space is limited, might lead to pain in sensitive areas. In people with arthritis, the joints hurt. In people with migraine, the head hurts. In people with fibromyalgia, anything and everything may hurt.

What You Can 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 feeling too hot or too cold (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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does fibromyalgia hurt worse when it rains?

    No one is sure, but it may be due to changes in barometric pressure, which make tissues in your body expand and contract, thus putting pressure on sensitive structures.

  • What does a fibromyalgia flare feel like?

    Fibromyalgia flares feel different for different people. Common descriptions include:

    • Full-body migraine
    • Limbs too heavy to move
    • Fogged-in brain
    • Unrelenting exhaustion
  • What kind of weather is best for fibromyalgia?

    That depends on what bothers you. Some people with fibromyalgia are sensitive to heat, cold, or both while others aren't. Some notice heightened symptoms due to certain weather patterns while others don't.

  • Is the sun good for fibromyalgia?

    Yes and no. Sunlight provides vitamin D, which may treat pain, inflammation, fatigue, poor sleep, and depression. However, some people with fibromyalgia find they easily overheat and have more severe symptoms when it's hot. Be cautious until you know how the sun and heat affect you.

1 Source
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  1. University of Chicago Medical Center: UChicago Medicine. It's cold outside! Do your joints hurt?

Additional Reading

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.