Date
24 July 2017
Most patients suffering from inflammatory arthritis will start having finger pains in the early stage. Ultrasound scans can help assess the degree of inflammations. Photo: HKEJ
Most patients suffering from inflammatory arthritis will start having finger pains in the early stage. Ultrasound scans can help assess the degree of inflammations. Photo: HKEJ

Weather and rheumatic pains: Myth vs reality

There is a popular belief that prolonged exposure to wet and humid environment is one of the main causes of rheumatic diseases and arthritic pains.

Well, this is more of a misconception than truth.

In reality, osteoarthritis (OA) and gout — two of the most common ailments regarding joint pains — are not induced by rainy weather.

Risk factors of osteoarthritis include joint injury and overuse, obesity, and genetics of patients. A plump patient who suffers from OA in the knees should control body weight and take measures to protect the joints.

Meanwhile, gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid as crystals deposited in joints. The breakdown of purines in food by the body is one of the main sources for formation of uric acid.

Patients should take medicine to control inflammation in joints and lower body uric acid. They should also avoid too much high-purine food such as mushrooms, beans, offal and red meat in diet.

In rheumatology, there are three other types of inflammatory arthritis, namely rheumatoid arthritis (RA), ankylosing spondylitis (AS), and psoriatic arthritis (PsA). None of them is caused by the weather.

RA mainly affects patients’ small joints such as hands and feet, while AS involves back pain and stiffness, as well as pain and swelling in the hips. PsA causes affected joints to become swollen, stiff and painful, and it often develops in some patients who also have the skin condition psoriasis. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are considered as autoimmune diseases.

Recent research studies have identified the proteins or cytokine that could cause inflammations in joints. Biological drugs have been used to treat these inflammatory arthritis ailments to slow or stop the processes in the patients’ body that cause joint damage.

As for the causes, studies have also identified HLA-B27 as the genetic marker for AS.

On top of that, individual patients may also suffer from swollen joints due to bacterial inflammation. Tuberculous arthritis is such a case.

Hence, rheumatic diseases can be induced by various causes like joint injury and overuse, diet and metabolism, autoimmune diseases or bacterial infections. People suffering from joint pains should consult the doctor for identifying the genuine underlying causes, instead of simply putting the blame on the rainy and humid weather and deferring treatment.

Early diagnosis and right treatments can help relieve the pain effectively.

If proper treatment is given to patients during the early months of the ailments, it can also help reduce medicine intake in future. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 2.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

DY/JP/RC

Director, Rheumatology Centre, Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital

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