This article in the Wall Street Journal seems to affirm that the uman body is good at predicting things such as the weather. Bring on the April showers!
The Wolff family of Paramus, N.J., was eyeing the gathering clouds and debating whether to cancel a planned park trip when 6-year-old Leora piped up with an idea: "Let's call Grandma. Her knees always know when it's going to rain!"
Leora's grandmother, Esther Polatsek, says she started being sensitive to the weather in her 20s, when a fracture in her foot would ache whenever a snowstorm approached. Now 66 and plagued by rheumatoid arthritis, Mrs. Polatsek says she suffers flare-ups whenever the weather is about to change. "It's just uncanny. Sometimes it'll be gorgeous out, but I'll have this awful pain. And sure enough, the next morning it rains," she says. "It may be just a few drops, but it makes my body crazy."
Do weather conditions really aggravate physical pain? It is one of the longest running controversies in medicine.
Weathering the Pain
Hippocrates in 400 B.C. noticed that some illnesses were seasonal. The traditional Chinese medicine term for rheumatism (fengshi bing) translates to "wind-damp disease." But modern scholars have gotten inconsistent results in studies that tried to match weather patterns to reported pain symptoms—leading some to dismiss the connection as highly subjective or all in sufferers' minds.
Still, other studies have linked changes in temperature, humidity or barometric pressure to worsening pain from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as headaches, tooth aches, jaw pain, scar pain, low-back pain, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, trigeminal neuralgia (a searing pain in the face), gout and phantom-limb pain.
Scientists don't understand all the mechanisms involved in weather-related pain, but one leading theory holds that the falling barometric pressure that frequently precedes a storm alters the pressure inside joints. Those connections between bones, held together with tendons and ligaments, are surrounded and cushioned by sacs of fluid and trapped gasses.
Both the Weather Channel and AccuWeather have indexes on their websites that calculate the likelihood of aches and pains across the country, based on barometric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind. Changes in those conditions tend to affect joints even more than current conditions do, says AccuWeather meteorologist Michael Steinberg, which is why the Arthritis Index shows more risk the day before a storm or a sharp drop in temperature is forecast.
Tests on animals seem to bear out the impact of weather. In one study, guinea pigs with induced back pain exhibited signs of increased pain by pulling in their hindpaws in low barometric pressure.
Cold weather seems to raise the risk of stroke, heart attacks and sudden cardiac death, some research shows. Heart-attack risk rose 7% for every 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) drop in temperature, according to a study of nearly 16,000 patients in Belgium, presented at the European Society of Cardiology last month. British researchers studying years of data on implanted defibrillators found that the risk of ventricular arrhythmia—an abnormal heart rhythm that can lead to sudden death—rose 1.2% for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit drop, according to a study in the International Journal of Biometerology last month.
Some weather conditions seem to relieve pain. In one study, the warm, high-pressure Chinook winds common to western Canada lessened patients' neuropathic pain, the kind brought on by disease or injury. For other patients, the same climate increased migraines and sinus headaches.