Rheumatoid Arthritis: NHS on common signs and symptoms
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Arthritis is a common condition which affects the joints and can be painful to live with. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common types of this inflammatory condition which can both worsen when the temperature drops. The cold weather can wreak havoc on our immune system, but what is it about the freezing winter weather that can make living with arthritis so much worse?
While there is no cure for arthritis, symptoms can be managed by a range of treatments and coping mechanisms to limit the pain caused by inflammation of the joints.
UK arthritis charity Versus Arthritis says the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include swollen and tender joints, joint stiffness in the morning, fatigue and general feelings of being unwell.
Taking extra care of your body is especially important during the winter months – but it is especially crucial for those suffering from the painful side effects of rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis can suddenly flare up and for some people, the weather is just one trigger.
Why is arthritis worse in the winter?
A 2019 study led by consultant rheumatologist Professor Will Dixon at the University of Manchester found that ‘damp and windy weather’ can have an adverse effect on arthritis sufferers.
Results from the study concluded that on days with low atmospheric pressure (cold, wet weather), arthritis sufferers are 20 percent more likely to experience more painful symptoms.
Versus Arthritis added: “Barometric pressure may affect your joints more than humidity, rainfall and temperature.”
As the atmospheric conditions change with the weather, human bones, muscles and tendons can expand and contract, which is thought to have a direct effect on the amount of fluid which can ‘oil your joints’.
Joint stiffness during the winterLow temperatures could increase the thickness of the synovial fluid which acts as the joint’s shock absorber.
When the thickness of the fluid which lubricates the joints increases, it can worsen feelings of stiffness around the:
Rheumatoid arthritis often occurs symmetrically where both wrists, hands, or knees are affected by symptoms simultaneously.
Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can affect other body parts and systems including the eyes, heart, lungs, skin and blood vessels, says medically accredited website WebMD.
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Shorter days and longer nights can leave the average Briton feeling more exhausted than usual and this can only feel worse for those suffering from arthritis.
As an autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are a direct result of the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues, which can feel particularly draining on your energy levels.
When your immune system is compromised, it is important to boost your health by:
- Eating a healthy diet – try arthritis fighting foods like oily fish, nuts, berries, green tea and dark leafy greens
- Getting plenty of rest – six to eight hours a day is recommended for adults in the UK
- Exercising regularly – aim for 20 minutes per day of moderate exercise
- Staying hydrated – drink plenty of water (six to eight cups per day)
Fatigue should be approached with simple lifestyle changes in order to fix low-energy levels in the long term.
Arthritis related aches and pains are caused by the inflammation of the joints, which can trigger throbbing pains and consistent discomfort.
While winter walks are great for releasing tension in the muscles and for your general wellbeing, the chilly weather can worsen aches and pains.
Wear gloves to keep aching hands warm and add extra layers over the knees and legs while spending time in the great outdoors,
Swimming in a heated pool or taking a warm bath is another great way to soak your joints in naturally nourishing water.
Feeling unwell during the winter
Feeling under the weather is a normal yet uncomfortable side effect of rheumatoid arthritis.
As the body’s immune system attacks the joints, it can worsen pain and leave you feeling particularly run down.
A mixture of the cold weather, darker days and longer nights can all worsen winter illness, so try supplementing your vitamin D intake through the winter to boost your mood and immunity.
The NHS states: “Since it’s difficult for people to get enough vitamin D from food alone, everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.”
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