Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder characterized by tremors, stiffness, slow movements, and balance issues. It is caused by the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. While the exact causes of Parkinson’s are unknown, both genetic and environmental factors likely play a role.
Many people with Parkinson’s disease anecdotally report that their symptoms worsen in hot, humid weather and improve in cooler temperatures. But what does the research say about whether weather truly impacts Parkinson’s disease?
Overview of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease affects over 1 million people in the United States. It usually develops after age 60, although 15% of cases occur before age 50. Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. These brain cells produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for smooth, coordinated muscle movement. With Parkinson’s, dopamine levels in the brain steadily fall, leading to worsening symptoms over time.
The characteristic signs of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Tremor, usually starting in one hand
- Muscle rigidity or stiffness
- Slowed movement (bradykinesia)
- Impaired balance and coordination
As Parkinson’s progresses, other symptoms can develop like speech changes, difficulty swallowing, memory problems, mood disorders, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but medications and therapies can help manage symptoms. Treatment is tailored to each person’s specific needs.
Theories on How Weather Could Affect Parkinson’s
There are several theories on why Parkinson’s symptoms may fluctuate based on the weather:
1. Barometric pressure changes
Some research indicates that barometric pressure changes associated with certain weather patterns could worsen Parkinson’s symptoms. One study found that tremors and bradykinesia were more severe when barometric pressure was high. Rapid drops in barometric pressure also seemed to negatively impact symptoms.
Increased humidity may exacerbate Parkinson’s symptoms. One hypothesis is that humidity alters the viscosity of synovial fluid in joints, making movement more difficult. Humidity could also impact nerve conduction velocity.
3. Heat stress
Hot temperatures can cause heat stress in the body and may worsen neurological symptoms. One theory is that high heat inhibits the metabolism of levodopa, a key Parkinson’s medication. Increased sweating in hot weather can also alter levodopa absorption.
4. Reduced activity
Some experts think cold or rainy weather worsens Parkinson’s symptoms because people tend to stay inside more and get less physical activity. Lack of movement can increase muscle stiffness and worsen mobility.
Study Findings on Weather and Parkinson’s Symptoms
While anecdotal reports suggest that weather affects Parkinson’s symptoms, the scientific evidence remains limited and mixed:
Evidence that weather impacts symptoms
- A 2018 study analyzed 4 years of data from 2,950 Parkinson’s patients. It found increased rates of hospital admissions for Parkinson’s exacerbations when outdoor temperatures were very high or low. Admissions peaked when temperatures exceeded 90°F.
- A 2012 study collected daily symptom diaries from 44 people with Parkinson’s disease over 3-6 months. On warmer, more humid days, participants experienced significantly more tremors, slower movements, and worsening mobility.
- A small 2010 study looked at hospital visits for Parkinson’s disease over 10 years. Admissions were highest in the summer and lowest in the winter. The researchers concluded that heat may exacerbate Parkinson’s symptoms.
Evidence that weather does not affect symptoms
- A 2021 analysis of data from over 63,000 Parkinson’s patients found no clear seasonal patterns in hospitalizations or mortality.
- A 2019 study collected detailed symptom data from 60 Parkinson’s patients over 8 months. It found no significant correlations between Parkinson’s symptoms and weather conditions like temperature, humidity, or barometric pressure.
- A 2016 study asked 348 Parkinson’s patients to rate their symptoms daily for 6 months. Changes in humidity and barometric pressure were not associated with worsening of symptoms.
Overall the research remains split on whether hot or cold temperatures, humidity, and barometric pressure changes truly worsen Parkinson’s symptoms. Larger, more rigorous studies are still needed.
Tips for Managing Parkinson’s Symptoms in Hot or Cold Weather
While the impact of weather on Parkinson’s may still be unclear, people living with the condition can take steps to feel their best in any forecast:
- Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration in hot and humid weather.
- Wear breathable clothing – Choose lightweight, breathable fabrics that won’t cause overheating.
- Use cooling accessories – Handheld fans, cooling packs, and cooling apparel can provide relief in heat.
- Plan activities carefully – Schedule strenuous tasks for cooler parts of the day and take breaks as needed.
- Exercise regularly – Physical activity improves mobility, stiffness, and tremors. Avoid being too sedentary even when the weather is bad.
- Get adequate rest – Fatigue can worsen Parkinson’s symptoms. Maintain good sleep habits.
- Check with your doctor – Consult your physician if weather seems to be impacting your condition. Medication adjustments may help.
Making lifestyle modifications based on the weather and listening to your body’s needs can help those with Parkinson’s stay active and engaged all year long.
The Bottom Line
Many people living with Parkinson’s disease report worse symptoms during periods of heat, humidity, and barometric pressure changes. However, the scientific evidence on how weather impacts Parkinson’s remains limited and contradictory.
Some studies have associated hot summer weather and rapid pressure drops with increased Parkinson’s hospital visits. But other research has found no correlation between weather and Parkinson’s symptoms. More large, rigorous studies are needed.
Regardless of the weather’s true effect on Parkinson’s, people can take common-sense steps like staying hydrated, keeping cool, and exercising regularly to feel their best year-round.
While research continues on this topic, being attuned to your body and making lifestyle adjustments based on the forecast may help you manage Parkinson’s symptoms through all kinds of weather.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does heat make Parkinson’s worse?
Some studies have found that heatwaves and hot summer weather are associated with worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms like tremors, rigidity, and slowed movement. One theory is that heat impacts the metabolism and absorption of Parkinson’s medications. However, other research has not found a clear link between hot temperatures and exacerbation of symptoms.
Does cold weather affect Parkinson’s?
There is limited and contradictory evidence on whether cold weather worsens Parkinson’s symptoms. Some studies have linked winter weather to increased hospital visits related to Parkinson’s, possibly due to people being less active indoors. But other studies have not found cold temperatures to directly impact Parkinson’s symptoms or progression.
Does humidity affect Parkinson’s?
Some research suggests increased humidity exacerbates Parkinson’s symptoms like tremors and stiffness. Humidity may impact nerve conduction and the viscosity of synovial fluid in joints. However, the evidence linking humidity to worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms remains limited and inconclusive.
Should Parkinson’s patients move to warmer climates?
There is not enough consistent evidence to recommend that those with Parkinson’s disease move to warmer climates. While some people experience symptom relief in warmer weather, others find that air conditioning allows them to manage well in hotter climates. Work closely with your neurologist when making major lifestyle changes involving weather.
What’s the best climate for someone with Parkinson’s?
There is no clear consensus on an ideal climate for Parkinson’s patients. The best approach is to live in a place that allows you to stay physically active and socially engaged year-round. Making certain lifestyle adjustments based on weather patterns in your local climate can help you manage Parkinson’s symptoms in any location.
In summary, many individuals with Parkinson’s disease experience symptom fluctuations based on the weather. However, scientific research on this topic remains limited and contradictory. While some studies link hot and humid weather to worsening of Parkinson’s, others find no clear correlations. There is no consensus on an “ideal” climate for Parkinson’s patients. Regardless of where someone lives, making sensible lifestyle modifications based on the weather and staying attuned to one’s body can help manage Parkinson’s symptoms across all seasons.