Migraines Often Triggered By Change In the Weather

by Teri Robert Patient Advocate

Migraine sufferers may be able to avoid triggering some of the excruciating attacks by skipping the red wine with dinner and forgoing the chocolate mousse for dessert, but there's little they can do about one of the most common Migraine triggers: the weather. Half of Migraine sufferers were sensitive to weather variables, but most were wrong in their prediction of which climate variable was the culprit, according to findings of a study presented at the 46th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society (AHS).

Marcelo E. Bigal, M.D., Ph.D., director of research at the New England Center for Headache, Stamford, Connecticut, and assistant professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y., explained:

"Most people in the study thought they could predict which type of weather factor (temperature, snow, etc.) triggered their Migraines, but they really couldn't ...

Ironically, we found the one constant in weather-triggered Migraines was change. For instance, even though the heat, high humidity or a storm can cause the headaches in some people, it's usually the change in temperature, humidity or barometric pressure that brings Migraines on in most sufferers."

People who get weather-related headaches often blame them on sinus problems, when they likely are Migraines, he said.

Nearly 36 million Americans -- 1 in 8 adults - suffer from Migraine disease.

In the study, 77 people diagnosed with Migraines were given a questionnaire asking if they thought weather triggered their Migraines and, if so, what type of weather they believed was the culprit. They kept daily headache journals for two months to two years, providing details about their Migraine attacks, including when the headaches started, how long they lasted, and their severity. At the same time, researchers collected weather data from the National Weather Service. The journals were compared to the weather patterns.

The researchers determined 39 people (51 percent) were sensitive to weather, but 48 (62 percent) thought they were sensitive to weather. Thus, more than 1 in 10 people in the study wrongly believed weather triggered their Migraines.

  • Twenty-six (34 percent) were sensitive to a change in temperature or humidity,

  • 11 (14 percent) to a changing weather pattern and

  • 10 (13 percent) to a change in barometric pressure.

  • One in 10 were sensitive to more than one type of weather factor.

A change in the weather can mean a variety of things, said Dr. Bigal. For instance, a bright day with 12 hours of sunlight followed by a cloudy day with seven hours of sunlight can trigger a Migraine in some people.

"We're realizing more and more that change - or fluctuation - is a major factor in Migraine triggers, whether it's a change in sleep patterns, estrogen levels or weather," said Dr. Bigal. "That's because the brains of Migraine sufferers are extremely sensitive and stimulation that has no affect on most people can trigger Migraines in those prone to them."

While they can't change the weather, people who recognize it triggers their Migraines can begin taking medication at the first sign of a Migraine, before it becomes entrenched, said Dr. Bigal.

Co-authors of a study Dr. Bigal is presenting at the AHS meeting are P.B. Prince, A.M. Rapoport, F.D. Sheftell and S.J. Tepper.

**____** Resources:

Bigal, Marcel, MD; Prince, P.B., MD. Rapoport, A.M., MD; Sheftell, F.D., MD; Tepper, S.J., MD. "Migraines Often Triggered By Change In the Weather." Platform Presentation, 46th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society. 2004.

Last updated July 10, 2007.

Teri Robert
Meet Our Writer
Teri Robert

Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation's Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society.