Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Saturday, 26 December 2009

Cold weather misery for arthritis patients

By Jane Elliott
Heath reporter, BBC News

Nila Patel
The cold weather makes it difficult for Nila to meet friends

Like many people, Nila Patel is feeling stressed about the prospect of entertaining her extended family during the Christmas holidays - but her concerns are exacerbated by the fact she has rheumatoid arthritis.

The 26-year-old, from London, is hosting a family dinner with her mother, but her fingers are badly deformed and her condition makes domestic duties more of a challenge.

"I will always try to help around the kitchen - but there are certain things I can't do, such as peeling potatoes," she said.

"My mobility is quite limited, and my activities. I can't carry anything too heavy and I can't grip very hard. I cannot carry a big pot from one hob to the other. I have to use two hands.

"I find it quite frustrating to explain to someone that you can't do something or to have to ask for help. Around family that I don't see very often, they sometimes forget or don't realise. All of my extended family know, but they forget."

What should be joyful time of year can become depressing and isolating, especially for those not mobile or energetic enough to party
GP Carol Cooper

The cold weather makes it difficult for Nila to meet friends and talk about her concerns.

"It is isolating around the Christmas period," she said. "It is freezing and I don't really want to go out - but it is the time most people do want to go out."

Carol Cooper, a GP and specialist in rheumatology, said: "While research hasn't proved a clear link between joint pain and weather, many of my patients find that their symptoms get worse when it's damp or whenever barometric pressure changes.

"Going round the shops for presents and festive food is a strain even for those without arthritis. When your joints are stiff and aching, heavy shopping is far more of a burden. For some, it's almost impossible.

"What should be joyful time of year can become depressing and isolating, especially for those not mobile or energetic enough to party.

"It's not much fun dragging yourself to a bash if you can only sit and watch when you get there.

Because it's Christmas and you're supposed to be jolly, you hide how you're feeling so you don't spoil the party for everyone else
Phil Baker
Arthritis Care

"Dressing up to look nice takes time and effort, and a lot of people with arthritis have body image issues, for instance because of distorted joints, or weight gain from drugs."

Arthritis Care's helplines are open for extra days during the holiday period, including on New Year's Eve, and its website discussion forums will remain open every day.

Director of operations Phil Baker said: "As cold weather sets in, it's easy to forget there are people home alone, trapped in by slippery pavements, and excluded from simple seasonal enjoyments like Christmas shopping, seeing the lights, joining in carol concerts, or even attending church.

"In rural areas, there may be no bus for visiting friends, and no post office for sending parcels to the grandchildren'

"Arthritis doesn't go away just because it's Christmas. You can feel desperately isolated by pain, even in the heart of the family.

"And because it's Christmas and you're supposed to be jolly, you hide how you're feeling so you don't spoil the party for everyone else.

"We want people to know that they don't have to bear it alone, it won't cost them a penny to pick up the phone to Arthritis Care, or to click on the forum, and find people who listen and understand and care."



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