Friday, September 16, 2016

No s***, Sherlock! - weather edition

I've seldom been more irritated to read a news report than this morning.

It is nearly 2,500 years since the Greek physician Hippocrates noticed a connection between pain and the weather, but scientists have shown that it may well be true.

Researchers at Manchester University spent months tracking thousands of people who suffer from conditions like arthritis, back pain and migraines to see if their symptoms got worse in good or bad weather.

The participants who were based in Leeds, Norwich and London - reported that as the number of sunny days increased from February to June, the amount of time they experienced severe pain fell.

However when there was a period of wet weather in June and fewer hours of sunlight, the level of pain increased once again.

Scientists think that it could be the fall in pressure behind the phenomenon which causes fluid in the joints to shift. Low pressure also brings rain, so people may be mistaking the downpour for the cause of their increased discomfort.

The 18-month project, called Cloudy With A Chance Of Pain, is currently at the halfway stage. Participants log on to an app and record their symptoms. The app also logs where they are and the exact weather at the time they enter the information.

Professor Will Dixon, who treats people with arthritis at Salford Royal hospital, is leading the research.

He said: "We have long heard anecdotal evidence about how people with chronic conditions say they suffer more when the weather is bad - a lot of my patients tell me that they can predict the weather based on how they are feeling.

"But amazingly there has never really been any real research into it - even though that around 28 million people in the UK suffer from some form of chronic pain."

There's more at the link.

I'm irritated because this problem is so widespread, and so many people suffer from it, that I can't believe doctors and scientists haven't gotten the message by now.

One of the things that binds Miss D. and I together is our shared experience of pain, historically, day by day, and particularly when the weather changes.  (Her knee was smashed into a lot of tiny pieces by a careless driver a decade ago, and as regular readers will know, I ended up partly disabled, with a fused spine and nerve damage, after a work-related injury in 2004.)  It's gotten so that when either of us begins to hurt badly, we'll often ask the other if they're feeling the same.  If they are, we automatically assume that bad weather's about to move in - and I can't recall a single incident where we've been wrong.  Thank goodness for painkillers at times like those!  Just this week, a thunderstorm rolled over and woke both of us in the middle of the night, hurting badly.  At least we could commiserate with each other, even if there was nothing we could do about it except share a cup of tea and a pain pill.

The connection between weather and pain is so commonplace (I've seen it so often, in so many people, that I've lost count) that I can't help but blink in disbelief that there are those who think it needs to be scientifically proved.  This is one area where anecdotes are so overwhelming that they must surely constitute evidence . . . surely?  Or are the eggheads blind to lived reality?  Are there no scientists or doctors who've suffered similar injuries, and can therefore confirm from their own experience that the connection between pain and weather is real?



Trimegistus said...

Science needs data. Sure, your doctor may well believe you when you say your pain is worse in wet weather. But what does "wet weather" mean? If they're going to come up with anything better than "more painkillers" they need to figure out what, exactly, is causing the pain. Humidity? Low atmospheric pressure? Cooler temperature? Rapid change in any of those factors? Combinations? If you don't study things systematically, you never learn anything you can use.

Cedar said...

Sometimes studies are done to settle assumptions that have been long held as fact. In a recent lecture, a speaker to our class talked about a study that was done to test whether beetle elytra (the hard covering over beetle wings) actually had functional protective uses. This seems like a well, DUH moment, but no-one had actually studied it and quantified the data of how well it did it's job. Now, there are solid numbers that scientists can point to, rather than loose assumptions. Which is presumably what the weather/pain study is trying to accomplish.

Minecraft Chuck said...

Doctors PRACTICE medicine. It's not a science yet, not really. I still hear from doctors that poison ivy rashes don't spread. There's a lot of common sense things beaten out of them in training. I understand that the instructors think it's for the best, but it seems to be a bit too much. Like when the doctors don't listen to the patient, or even really look at him, and imstead rely too much on diagnostics and test results.

It's like the scene in "The madness of King George" where the old doctors are pleased with the King's regular, firm bowel movements, and the young doctor keeps interjecting "But the King's water is blue!" Naturally, they ignore and dismiss him and the evidence in favor of their theories.

bruce said...

I think some of the weather related pain is consciousness of it. On a good day you might go out and do something, on a bad day you can't, so do nothing. The idle mind has time to fret.

Parklake guy said...

I was diagnosed with rhuematoid arthritis over 20 years ago. The doctor then told me that I could expect 'discomfort' during periods of low pressure. And he was right.

Brigid said...

I find that Accu-Knee if better than any meteorologist on TV. I know at least 24 hours ahead of time when we're going to get severe weather. It's only the one that lost the 20% of the meniscus that now has arthritis, the other knee is arthritis free and doesn't bother me at all.

Rev. Paul said...

I've been able to predict low-pressure systems moving in, for the last 42 years since I fractures three vertebrae. It was debilitating back in the Midwest, with its frequent and fast-moving systems. The weather in Alaska is generally much more stable, so the pain comes less often. But it's still bad enough that I need a cane, when it happens. The rest of the time, I do not.

And for the "scientists" of the medical world to only notice it now is ludicrous.

Peter B said...

Mycoplasma infections can contribute to joint pain from barometric pressure changes. I think chlamydia, too.
I there is emerging evidence that Borrelia burgdorferi (the central Lyme disease organism) may be present in South Africa, and I think you spent a fair amount of time in tick country there.

Just off the top of my head, I'd expect that even if there were no Borrelia burgdorferi there, there are probably local analogues to Lyme, maybe caused by local spirochetes. Either way, I'd expect that South African coinfections would be different from North American ones.

Andrew said...

My wife, with all her structural ailments, is a much better predictor of tropical patterns potentially affecting our area than NOAA or the NHC, by as much as 48 hours, so we use her as a long-term predictor.

Now, my sinuses are a better indicator of rapid shifts of pressure than the weather channels. They can say rain and storms are here, but until my forehead feels like it's splitting, nothing will happen.

Alfred Genesson said...

And there's not the same correlation between types of pain. Some might be more linked to lack of sunlight, but for myself, sunlight can act as a migraine headache and allergy trigger.

I get your annoyance. What's worse is that HR people have no comprehension of what having a pain trigger is like, and want you to see a doctor all the time for having incidents. It doesn't get cured, it can only be treated and endured.

It's a little disturbing that the UK is where these studies are taking place, as they've recently started refusing surgeries to smokers and the obese. How long before they include chronic pain sufferers?

Suz said...

One good least they were not using US tax payer dollars to pay for THAT study.

If you find a doctor who listens to patients, hang on to them!! Cause all medical folks are convinced they know better than you! Twenty five years ago, after having serious surgery, I was firmly convinced that ALL medical people should have to spend a week INSIDE the bed rails, needing to push a button to get help to get out of bed, to go to the toilet, and basically be weak as a kitten. It gives a medical person an entirely new appreciation of how much patience our patients have with us. And even when you know what you are talking about, they still don't listen.


Anonymous said...

My girlfriend grew up with severe scoliosis; I was in a motorcycle wreck in '08 that nearly cost me a leg (my life as well, but they got me before I bled out).
We know when the weather is changing. The radio may say it's unlikely to do anything in our area; the sky may even look as if nothing's heading our way, but we can feel weather coming. It's not 100% reliable--sometimes things move around us, or it's just a change in barometric pressure with no precipitation, but more ofte n than not we're right.
Suz, I agree. I was lucky enough to have an orthopedic surgeon who had himself suffered a serious injury when younger, & thus knew both sides. He knew how to listen, & adjust his conclusions.
--Tennessee Budd