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Does Hot Weather Affect Psoriatic Arthritis?

By Julie Ryan Evans
Reviewed by Ana-Maria Orbai, M.D.
August 25, 2021

Whether you’re enduring a heat wave or planning a trip to a tropical locale, you’re probably wondering how the hot weather is going to affect your psoriatic arthritis. The good news is: The heat is more likely to make you feel better than worse; but, there are some challenges the warmer temperatures can present, as well.

Why Your Symptoms May Ease in Hot Weather

In general, experts say summer tends to be a good time for people with psoriatic arthritis.

“With the warmer weather, and in warmer climates, in general, people tend to feel less stiff and less achy,” says Brett Smith, D.O., a board-certified rheumatologist with Blount Memorial Hospital and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

The theory is that joint fluid tends to flow more easily when it’s warmer, he says, and the fluid becomes thicker when it’s colder, making people feel stiffer.

Robert Hylland, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist with the Rheumatology Centers of Western Michigan, in Muskegon, adds that the reason most patients with psoriatic arthritis feel better in summer may have something to do with the vitamin D from sun exposure.

“Psoriatic arthritis is interesting because it often mimics what’s going on in the skin,” Hylland says, referring to the fact that sun exposure may help the skin symptoms of psoriasis. “We think that’s probably because of local vitamin D production in the skin, which we know helps to moderate the immune system and helps to clean up skin sores. With that, there’s a general reduction of inflammation in the body, which then reduces joint pain.”

Increased natural-light exposure during warmer weather may improve your mood and is even used as a treatment for seasonal depression. Since people with psoriatic disease are at higher risk for depression, the positive effect on mood may also contribute to feeling better overall.

Sometimes, Though, Heat Can Make Things Worse

Hylland says heat can be a mixed bag for those with psoriatic arthritis, though, and for about 25 percent of patients, symptoms worsen in the summer. For example, in August, he says, there’s often an increase in joint discomfort and achiness for some people, since heat and humidity can cause microscopic local swelling, resulting in stiffness and aching.

“It’s not flares in the arthritis itself, it’s just that the joints hurt a little bit more,” Hylland explains.

Travel and Psoriatic Arthritis

Summer is prime travel time, and experts say that taking a relaxing vacation may help ease your psoriatic arthritis symptoms. The key word is relaxing. A high-stress vacation that involves, say, chasing kids all day or otherwise always being “on” without any time to unwind won’t bring about the same results.

“Stress is a major factor in precipitating immune disease, that is in making the arthritis and psoriasis worse,” Hylland says. “Stress is a profound negative influence on autoimmune diseases. So, vacations are wonderful, as long as they decrease stress.”

As for travel affecting psoriatic arthritis, Smith says it’s the duration of sitting still during travel that has more of an impact on how people feel than the mode of transportation. “It’s a very common complaint that long hours of travel make people feel stiffer and feel more pain.” Building in as much movement as possible during your travel itinerary may help.

Also, if you’re going from one extreme climate to another, you also may need to brace for an upswing in symptoms.

Smith says to think of it like being in an elevator. “You're more likely to feel it when it speeds up and slows down quickly than when it’s just going,” he says. “That’s the same with drops in barometric pressure or temperature: When they’re abrupt, patients are likely to feel the effects [on their psoriatic arthritis] more significantly.”

Be Careful Not to Overdo It

As with most everything, moderation is key when it comes to managing your psoriatic arthritis symptoms. For example, while the reprieve from stress that vacation may provide can help alleviate symptoms, people shouldn’t get too sedentary, or it could have a negative impact on symptoms.

“I still give the advice that you should move every joint, every day,” Smith says. “Just kind of hanging around isn’t good for us physically, though I do think it’s important for [people with psoriatic arthritis] to separate themselves from the daily toil and get a mental reprieve.”

Hylland says there can also be a tendency for people to rush out once the weather gets warm and to do too much too soon. He says, for example, people have a tendency to run out to plant their entire garden and do all their yard work as soon as the ground softens. He urges them to pace themselves instead.

“A psoriatic joint can and often does get worse when it's overused,” Hylland says. “You have to just remind patients that the damage that we see with the skin when it is injured can equally be found in the joints when they are injured. It's always a matter of all things in moderation and then gradually getting yourself used to increased physical activity.”

The same goes for sun exposure: While a little vitamin D on your skin could help your symptoms, you don’t want to risk sunburn or skin cancer by staying out too long under the UV rays or by forgetting to wear sunscreen. Enjoy the warm weather, but don’t overdo it.

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