RA Pain: Does Where You Live Matter?

Experts believe that rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the chronic inflammatory, autoimmune condition that strikes the joints of people throughout the world, is the result of interactions between genetic factors and the environment. But exactly what role the environment plays is the subject of debate, and the idea that where you live might affect your symptoms first intrigued researchers in the '60s. At the time, investigators decided that the evidence was inconclusive.

What the Data Show
The debate about the role of geography in RA was revived in 2009, when researchers found that place of birth and current location affected U.S. subjects' disease risk. Investigators examined data from the Nurses' Health Study and found that among women who lived in the same U.S. geographic regions from birth through adulthood, the risk for rheumatoid arthritis was highest in the mid-west and northeast. In fact, when evaluated at ages 15 and 30, women in the northeast were up to 45 percent more likely than women in the west to have RA.

A report from Johns Hopkins also found that arthritis patients living in warmer, drier climates experienced fewer episodes of arthritis pain, although climate does not change the course of the disease. The finding may be related to the drop in air pressure when the weather is cold and wet; it's thought that low air pressure may allow already-inflamed tissue to swell even more, causing additional pain.

There is also some evidence of an association between high temperatures, humidity, and an increased risk of gout, which is characterized by attacks of acute inflammatory arthritis. The risk of gout is higher in people who live in cities where it gets hotter than those who live in nearby rural areas. Heat has the greatest negative effect in people who live in cooler climates where high heat is atypical and their bodies are not accustomed to the warmth.

Coping With Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Unfortunately, no environment is arthritis-proof. Even people who live in warm climates still have  arthritis pain. Wherever you're living, help manage your RA symptoms by:

  • Eating a healthy diet full of foods thought to help reduce inflammation, like fish high in omega three fatty acids and fiber-rich fruits and veggies
  • Making sure you're getting enough folic acid, vitamins B6, B12, C, D, and E, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
  • Remaining active: exercise, especially strength training, will help loosen stiff joints and build strength.



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Liao KP, Alfredsson L, Karlson EW. "Environmental Influences on Risk for Rheumatoid Arthritis." Current Opinion Rheumatology 2009; 21(3): 279-283. Web.

Symmons, Deborah. "What is the Cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis? Non-Genetic Factors." National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. Web. 30 March 2010. http://www.nras.org.uk/about_rheumatoid_arthritis/what_is_ra/why_me/what_is_the_cause_of_rheumatoid_arthritis_nongenetic_factors.aspx

Centers for Disease Control. "Arthritis." Web. 1 August 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics.htm

Parker, Steven. "Arthritis: The Facts." Healthguidance.org. Web.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Does Weather Affect Arthritis Pain?" Johns Hopkins Alert. Web. 17 November 2005.

Kennedy K. "Nutrition Guidelines for People with Rheumatoid Arthritis." Arthritis Foundation. Web. 14 April 2013. http://www.arthritistoday.org/about-arthritis/types-of-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/daily-life/nutrition/rheumatoid-arthritis-diet.php