From Our 2009 Archives
Warm Weather May Trigger Migraines
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Temperature Increase Is the Biggest Weather-Related Headache Trigger, Research Suggests
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
March 9, 2009 -- Most migraine sufferers believe that weather changes can bring on their headaches, but the scientific proof has been lacking -- until now.
New research suggests that certain weather conditions may trigger migraines and other severe headaches. But frequent sufferers may be surprised by some of the findings.
The study reveals that:
Weather, Pollution, and Migraines
The study is one of the largest ever to examine the impact of weather and air pollution on headaches.
But study lead author Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard School of Public Health, tells WebMD that an even bigger study would be needed to understand the impact of air pollution on headaches.
"We are not saying that air pollution is not a headache trigger," he says. "What we can say with some confidence is that the effect is not enormous."
Mukamal and colleagues compared the medical records of 7,054 headache patients treated at a Boston hospital's emergency department over a seven-year period to official records of pollution levels and weather conditions in the days before treatment.
Specific weather conditions including temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity were also examined at other key time periods.
Although rising temperature was identified as the biggest weather-related headache trigger, the researchers concluded that the impact may not be clinically meaningful.
"This magnitude of excess risk is obviously modest and may not be an important factor in the clinical management of individual patients, given the many other potential triggers of migraine that patients face," they write.
The study was published in the journal Neurology and was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Other Headache Triggers
Migraine specialist Stephen Silberstein, MD, a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology, tells WebMD that patients often can reduce the number and severity of the headaches they have by understanding their own triggers.
Common migraine triggers include:
Many migraine sufferers believe that particular foods trigger their headaches. Silberstein says it is clear that alcohol, the flavor enhancer MSG, and caffeine withdrawal can do this.
But he adds that there is little scientific evidence linking other commonly cited foods like chocolate and artificial sweeteners to headaches.
SOURCES: Mukamal, K.J., Neurology, March 10, 2008; online edition. Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston. Stephen Silberstein, MD, Jefferson Headache Center, Philadelphia; spokesman, American Academy of Neurology.
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