Fibromyalgia syndrome can be a very difficult condition to deal with. It comes with a myriad of symptoms including relentless fatigue, muscle pain, depression, dizziness, and nausea, among others.
A large percentage of fibromyalgia sufferers claim that weather directly affects their symptoms and pain levels, but is this really true?
What is Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder marked by widespread, unexplained pain in the muscles and joints. It’s not a disease, but a syndrome, which is a collection of symptoms that occur together.
Although many people think of it as an arthritic condition due to the symptoms, it’s not a type of arthritis. The condition is often associated with tender points, which are termed “trigger points”.
These are places on the body where even light pressure causes pain. According to standards published by the American College of Rheumatology in 1990, a person can be diagnosed with fibromyalgia if they have widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 of the known 18 trigger points.
Common trigger points include:
- The back of the head
- Tops of shoulders
- Upper chest
- Outer elbows
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), fibromyalgia affects around 5 million Americans.
Although it occurs in both men and women, women account for between 80 and 90 percent of all cases.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with a family history of the syndrome are more likely to develop it themselves. Also, those with rheumatic disease like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis are at a greater risk.
Weather Changes That Affect Fibromyalgia
Many fibromyalgia patients claim that changes in the weather directly affect their symptoms. In fact, a significant number of fibromyalgia syndrome (FM) sufferers claim that their symptoms vary according to temperature changes, changes in air pressure, and changes in precipitation in their part of their world.
Rapid changes in temperature may either trigger a fibromyalgia flare-up, or help to ease fibromyalgia pain. Cold weather tends to make fibromyalgia symptoms worse, while warmer weather can provide welcome relief from troublesome symptoms.
Changes in weather that have been reporting to affect fibromyalgia are:
Barometric Pressure – Barometric pressure (a measurement of the weight of the air surrounding us) can trigger muscle aches and pains.
Humidity – Humidity, a measurement of the amount of water vapor present in each unit of air, causes headaches, stiffness, and widespread pain, when humidity is low.
Precipitation – Precipitation (any type of water that falls to the ground from the sky) may exacerbate fibromyalgia pain and fatigue.
Wind – Wind generally causes a decrease in barometric pressure and can trigger fatigue, headaches and muscle aches in fibromyalgia sufferers.
There have been a number of studies dedicated to validating this claim of weather sensitivity. In one study, patients were given weather parameters like cloudiness, wind speed, barometric pressure, relative humidity, sunlight and temperature and asked to rate their pain scores according to weather.
The actual pain scores in different climates and weather conditions were examined and the fact that fibromyalgia pain could predict the weather the next day was evaluated for truthfulness.
The study found no association between weather changes and fibromyalgia pain on the same or the next day. The study also found that certain factors like the presence of anxiety and depression exacerbated weather sensitivity pain.
Lastly, I this particular study, patients who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia for less than 10 years had significantly greater weather sensitivity for pain.
A study done at Integrated Tissue Dynamics in New York has shown that the cause of fibromyalgia and weather pain is an abnormality in the palms of patients’ hands – literally!
The team here found an enormous increase in the number of sensory nerve fibers within the blood vessels of the skin on the palms of fibromyalgia patients’ hands.
The discovery revealed clues to the cause of other fibromyalgia symptoms. In the hands and feet, the blood vessels act as shunts, helping to speed blood flow and regulate body temperature.
The shunts act like a radiator in a car, shutting down in warm conditions to radiate head and opening up when it gets cold.
You know how when it’s really cold out, your cheeks get rosy and your fingers get all puffy and red? That’s because the AV shunts are letting in more blood, trying to keep your extremities warm.
The increased activity of the fibers in cold weather explains why fibromyalgia sufferers experience more pain during chilly times.
Other research has shown that abnormal body temperatures, an inability to adapt to changes in temperature, and a lower pain threshold to both head and cold stimuli means that it takes less extreme temperatures to make you feel pain.
For example, sunlight shining through a car window onto your arm may cause burning pain in you but only mild discomfort in someone else.
Difficulties with the Fibromyalgia Diagnosis
Although the causes are unclear, fibromyalgia flare-ups can be the result of stress, physical trauma, or an apparent unrelated systemic illness like the flu.
Symptoms may be the result of the brain and nerves misinterpreting or overreacting to normal pain signals. This could possibly be due to an imbalance in brain chemicals.
Outside of the weather pain, fibromyalgia sufferers have a hard enough time with just the diagnosis alone. Because its symptoms are somewhat subjective and don’t have a clear known cause, fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed as another disease.
This plays a role in some doctors questioning the syndrome altogether. Although it is more widely accepted in medical circles than in the past, there are some doctors and researchers who don’t consider fibromyalgia a legitimate condition.
According to the May Clinic, this can increase the chances that someone with the condition will suffer from depression as they struggle with the acceptance for their painful symptoms.
Things like behavioral therapy can reduce stress that triggers symptoms and depression that often goes with this disorder. A better diet and sleep habits can also lessen the symptoms of fibromyalgia.