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You're Right, Weather Can Trigger Migraines!

WebMD Health News

June 27, 2001 -- Do you swear the weather causes your migraines? You're not alone. Many migraine sufferers blame weather fronts and barometric pressure changes -- although doctors have probably not taken their claims seriously.

But a new study shows there is something to the claims -- that a variety of weather conditions can indeed trigger migraines.

"Our study validates that weather is a factor in a significant number of people with migraine," says Alan Rapoport, MD, director and founder of The New England Center for Headache in Stamford, Conn.

"For more than half of migraine sufferers, the weather may be the trigger," he tells WebMD.

In their study, Rapoport and colleagues asked 77 migraine patients to keep track of their headaches for two years -- much longer than previous studies, says Rapoport. Patients noted on a calendar -- three times every day (morning, noon, and evening) -- whether they had zero headache, mild, moderate, or severe headache.

Researchers then conducted a computer analysis, factoring in data from the National Weather Service for weather conditions for every patient's hometown.

"We found that 51% of patients were sensitive to some sort of weather pattern," he tells WebMD. "Some were affected by more than one type of weather pattern."

Low temperature and low humidity -- a cool, dry day -- affected 22% of patients. But hot, humid days affected only 12% of patients.

"That was a surprise," says Rapoport. "We don't really hear that very often from patients. Most say it's either when a storm front comes in, which would imply that falling barometer, or very hot, humid weather is the problem. You do hear occasionally a person say they get into trouble when the weather gets nice again or when it's cold and dry like in Colorado."

Some people thought they were sensitive to weather -- but weren't.

"Interestingly, we asked everybody if they thought weather was a factor, and 85% thought that it was," Rapoport tells WebMD. "Yet only 51% were affected by it. So a lot fewer people have weather as a factor than think they do."

While he admits that no clear-cut pattern emerged, "we did get some useful information," says Rapoport.

He advises headache sufferers to track their own patterns, then share them with their doctors. "Once they know weather is a trigger -- and they know what type of weather they're sensitive to -- they can watch weather reports," he tells WebMD. "They can start taking preventive medication when that type of weather is coming. Or they can have their acute care medication with them, so it's there if a headache starts."

"This study was done by a really strong, careful group of researchers," says Donald B. Penzien, PhD, director of the Head Pain Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. "They are literally leaders in the headache field, so I'd say this points to something we should take seriously."

Another study has found a similar association between back pain and National Weather Service reports, Penzien tells WebMD.

"The key to this kind of study is to track weather patterns independent of patients' weather and headache reports. That's exactly what these researchers did. One study doesn't make a believer, but it's enough to pique my interest. It shows me that we need be paying attention to this."

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