Storms, Sunshine May Trigger Migraines

By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
6/26/2013 9:40:22 AM

This week marks National Migraine Awareness Week, spreading the awareness on a phenomena that more than 37 million Americans suffer from, according to the National Headache Foundation, or the NHF. Affecting most commonly women and those between the ages of 15 and 55 years old, migraines are moderate to severe headaches in which "excited brain cells trigger nerves to release chemicals that irritate and cause swelling of blood vessels on the surface of the brain, which then send pain signals to the brainstem," reported the NHF. Migraines can be triggered by external factors, one of which may be weather.

Doctors, specialists and researchers have found multiple physical and environmental factors that can lead to the start of a migraine. These factors include lack of sleep, schedule changes, certain foods, lack of sleep and hunger according to Johns Hopkins Medicine's Neurology and Neurosurgery Headache Center. However, adding to the list, doctors and patients alike believe that weather is a very common and significant trigger.

"Changes in weather are a known trigger of migraine," said Seymour Diamond, M.D., Executive Chairman and Founder of the National Headache Foundation. "About 40 percent of patients with migraines report some type of relationship between migraine and weather changes."

The concept has drawn attention within the medical community for years. In 2004, the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Boston researched the effect of weather on headaches in a study including 77 subjects and three weather factors, including absolute temperature and humidity, changing weather patterns and barometric pressure. The conclusions of the study supported a positive influence of weather variables on headaches and showed that patients are in fact susceptible to multiple weather factors and usually more patients believe that weather was their trigger.

Since then, weather conditions such as sunshine, extreme hot and cold air, humidity and changes in barometric pressure are known weather factors that can be a launching pad for a migraine episode.

"Changes in barometric pressure alter the body's chemistry," Diamond explained to AccuWeather.com. These alterations can change the brain's sensitivity and cause an imbalance of chemicals that ultimately can lead to a migraine, depending on the person.

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As weather patterns vary across the U.S. heading into mid-summer, usual migraine sufferers may be more susceptible depending upon their geographic location, especially those in thunderstorm prone areas.

Photo by: Flickr user Brilhasti1

Diamond explains that thunderstorms and rapid variations in temperature and barometric pressure are the kinds of weather that play the biggest role in inducing migraines. Lightning weighing in as one of the highest factors.

"Lightning will impact a specific subset of migraine sufferers, particularly those who are affected by light changes, said Diamond. The effect of lightning on migraine attacks is similar to the effects of flashing lights and the nuances of TV, movie and computer screens on a migraine sufferer."

However, lightning is not the only threat that thunderstorms pose for migraine sufferers.

"Thunderstorms can mess with barometric pressure," said Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. When a front approaches, the pressure drops quickly and then, as the storm recedes, the pressure again increases. It is this quick and drastic change that can affect migraine sufferers.

For those prone to these nasty headaches, this week into the weekend will bring more humidity and heat to the Northeast, showers and thunderstorms to the Midwest and yet more sunshine to the Southwest. Idaho, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon will experience a change from cool and wet weather earlier in the week to heat over the weekend.