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Hot and 'stormy weather' may trigger migraines

zone image Recent research from USA shows changes in weather may trigger migraines

Rising temperatures and lower barometric air pressure may be linked to higher risk of headaches, according to new research published in the peer reviewed journal Neurology.

Scientists from Harvard investigated the effect of temperature, air pressure and pollutants on headache pain. They identified 7,054 patients admitted to a Boston ER (casualty department) with severe headache over a seven year period, then recorded the environmental conditions three days prior to the patient attending the hospital.

Out of all environmental factors considered, including air temperature and pressure, pollutants and humidity, a rise in temperature was most closely associated with a severe headache. For each rise in temperature of 5 degrees Celsius, scientists found a 7.5% higher risk of headache.

They also found that a drop in air pressure 48 to 72 hours prior to hospital attendance could also trigger a headache, but to a lesser degree. However, air pollutants did not seem to have any effect.

Dr Brendan Davies, a Consultant Neurologist and member of the Medical Advisory Board for Migraine Action commented:

"This large study contributes to previous data from 2000 (about the Chinook winds in Alberta) that support and confirm the observations that elevation in ambient temperature e.g. "hotter weather" (a temperature increase of 5 degrees in this study) and change in ambient air pressure e.g. "stormy" weather (low barometric pressure in this study) are identifiable triggers for headache in some individuals. The mechanism of this is not studied in this paper.

Lee Tomkins, Director of Migraine Action, added:

"This study is very interesting and seems to show science providing an explanation for something that many members tell us as an observation regarding how these factors can adversely affect their migraines. It is another example of science 'catching up' with the anecdotal evidence our membership provides about everyday living with migraine."

Migraine headaches affect more than 6 million people in the UK. A migraine attack can last for 4 to 72 hours. Two thirds of those affected are women. Stress, certain foods, alcohol and hormones can all act as triggers culminating in the debilitating headache.

More information: Migraine Action

This article was published on Tue 10 March 2009

Image © Dmitry Ersler -

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