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HeadWay, Issue #068 -- Migraine Weather - really?
May 21, 2009

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In this month's issue:

Migraine Weather - really?

The Migraine Barometer returns!

Say what?!  Monocular

Migraine Weather - really?

Is there really such a thing as migraine weather?  In other words, do you get more migraine attacks during certain types of weather?

Believe it or not, despite centuries of anecdotal evidence that weather does indeed impact our health, until recently many researchers were of the opinion that it was all an old wives tale.  And some research seemed to agree - it wasn't showing the direct connection to weather and health that so many people claimed they could feel in their bones.

But research in the past few years has changed all that.  More and more evidence is emerging that yes, weather does impact health.  More specifically, migraine attacks.  Several studies show that during certain types of weather people really are more likely to have attacks.


But in spite of the growing agreement that there is such a thing as "migraine weather", just what type of weather triggers migraine continues to be a bit of a mystery.  The studies are still giving us contradictory evidence.

Take for example a recent study from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health (reported in March 2009).  The study researched local patients and found that a rise in temperature of 9F or 5C increased the risk of a migraine attack by 7.4%.  Low barometric pressure also raised the risk of serious headache.

An earlier study at The New England Center for Headache in Connecticut found that a combination of low humidity and low temperature could increase your chances of an attack.  This study also found that changes in barometric pressure, or extreme pressure, was also a common culprit.

A study at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia found that the worst weather was rising barometric pressure and rising temperature.  High winds (also related to pressure changes) also resulted in more attacks.

An early study (1981) discovered that phase 4 weather was the worst for migraineurs - low pressure, the passage of a warm front, warm temperatures, and high humidity.

Why the confusion?

Obviously part of the issue is the size and method of each study.  But there's more here.  Part of the problem is that weather is very complex.  If it's a weather combination that is really triggering migraine attacks, then it's the complex combination that will have to be measured, and that's a real challenge.  Also, weather can be very different over a few hours, and those changes can be hard to measure.

The other challenge is that everyone is different.  As with every migraine trigger, attacks are triggered by different things in everyone.

But there are some common denominators.  The majority of the studies do blame rising temperatures.  And barometric pressure changes, whether sudden or simply an extreme pressure, are blamed again and again.  However, these may be very individual - a drop in pressure may make me more susceptible to an attack, while a rise in pressure may be a problem for you.

The other challenge is that it's probably not one trigger that's starting off your migraine attack, but a few.  A drop in pressure may not start the migraine chain-reaction if you've been sleeping well, for example.  But if you've had a change in sleep schedule, and then there's a drop in pressure, you could be in trouble.

What to do

The evidence today is telling us that weather really does trigger migraine attacks - it's not just your imagination.  So do take weather into consideration when you're considering what triggers you have in your life.

Of course you can't avoid the weather (although some migraineurs have actually moved to a climate that is better for them).  But if you notice a weather change that is a problem for you, you may be able to take preventative action (this may simply be having a rest or taking a walk, or you may talk to your doctor about taking an abortive medication), or be especially careful to avoid other triggers.

In this case, knowledge is power - watch what kinds of weather bring on migraine attacks for you, and you may be able to take measures to stop the attack before it starts.

More on the March 2009 study here
More on migraine weather here

The Migraine Barometer returns!

One way people (including myself) have learned what type of weather causes problems for them is by using the migraine barometer.  For quite some time we had this excellent digital barometer available on the website, but it was discontinued and was unavailable for several months.

The new model is now out, and it's quite something.  It's a marine grade, extremely accurate digital barometer, which shows a current chart of barometric pressure change.  You can see at a glance how the pressure is changing.  Some people even set the alarm on the barometer so they're warned when a certain pressure change is taking place - either up or down, depending on what is a problem for you.

The barometer can even warn you of high winds, another trigger mentioned above.  It also tells you current temperature and humidity.

This barometer is finally available for pre-order - read more about the migraine barometer right here!

Hi James,
In short, thanks!
Your little barometer has changed everything for me.  I have known for some time that pressure was a trigger for some of my most severe headaches.  This little tool has helped me understand that almost *all* of my headaches are weather related.  For me it is rapidly falling pressure that does it…

After 30-some years of suffering, this is a rather huge revelation.  I have set the barometer to alert me of sharp pressure drops… now I'm training myself to medicate based on the alarm… the difference is *enormous*.

I will be ordering another barometer soon so I can keep on in my office *and* my bedroom… My hope is that if I can catch the pressure change (and have the barometer literally *wake me up* to take medication) I can avoid the headache all together…

Its amazing what a little understanding (and technology) can do…


New Mexico, USA

Say what?!  Monocular

Monocular simply means occurring in one eye.  For example, the symptoms of a retinal migraine tend to be monocular.

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
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