For many people with fibromyalgia, heat only worsens their symptoms. Fortunately, some simple strategies can keep you cool.
ummer is in full swing, and the thermometer is climbing. But while many people look forward to warmer temperatures, those with fibromyalgia may face the turning of the seasons with a sense of dread.
Some fibromyalgia patients know they can expect a flare-up in fibromyalgia symptomsfrom heat and high humidity; others agonize during cold weather months. One Portuguese study found that 70 percent of patients with various rheumatic conditions, including fibromyalgia, felt that weather changes had an influence on their pain.
“A lot of studies have shown that patients have sensitivity to pain with both temperature extremes,” says Lynne Matallana, founder and president of the National Fibromyalgia Association. “I know people who have packed up and moved their families because they felt another part of the country would be more comfortable for them. It can be that intense.”
Why Temperature Affects Fibromyalgia
Research has found that people with fibromyalgia exposed to hot temperatures report increases in:
- Muscle pain
Other fibromyalgia patients have reported feeling these symptoms in cold weather. “Any type of extreme weather change can make a difference,” Matallana says. “Our bodies don’t seem to be able to adapt as well as those of healthy people.”
Interestingly, people with fibromyalgia who report sensitivity at one temperature extreme often have no problem with the other extreme. “Most patients find they do better at one of the extremes or the other,” Matallana says. Folks who suffer in Florida often thrive in Alaska, and vice versa.
Medical experts aren’t sure exactly why heat has such a detrimental effect on some fibromyalgia patients. Studies, however, have provided some clues:
- Problems regulating body heat. Research has found that people with fibromyalgia have difficulty habituating themselves to temperature changes. Heat may bother people with fibromyalgia because they don’t perspire as easily as others. “Because there’s limited blood flow in the skin, there’s less ability to sweat,” Matallana says. As body heat rises, fibromyalgia patients suffer fevers and muscle pain, and are also more likely to have heat rashes and heat stroke.
- Dehydration. Fibromyalgia patients become dehydrated easily, which can lead to headaches, pain, and fatigue.
- Sleeplessness. A lack of sleep often can make fibromyalgia symptoms worse, and hot, muggy nights make sleep difficult. “People oftentimes end up trying to use air conditioning or fans, and those also disrupt their sleep,” Matallana said.
High humidity seems to exacerbate these symptoms, possibly because it makes the heat feel even more oppressive. Patients with a sensitivity to cold also report feeling worse in humid, clammy conditions.
Warm Weather Coping Strategies
When the weather gets warm, fibromyalgia patients with heat sensitivity need to pay close attention to their bodies. To protect yourself, you should:
- Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink lots of water, and don’t wait until you are thirsty before you drink. Dehydration can precede actual thirst. Carry a water bottle around and sip from it often. Avoid drinking alcohol, as it can cause you to lose body fluids. Don’t drink liquids that are overly cold, as they can cause cramping.
- Stay cool. Use air conditioning to keep your home cool. If you don’t have air conditioning, get a respite from the heat at an air-conditioned mall or movie theater. Take cool showers or baths, or go for a swim. Using a cold pack can help you cool off and ease muscle pain. Cool, damp cloths on your neck or ice cubes dabbed on your wrists can ease the effects of the heat, too.
- Stay comfortable. Wear light, comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that breathes. Choose bright colors or whites; dark colors absorb heat.
Fluctuations in temperature can make your fibromyalgia feel worse. But once you know which extreme bothers you the most, you can plan ahead and spend time indoors where you can better control the conditions.