baltimoresun.com

« Kite weather | Main | When the weather has no sizzle »

March 9, 2009

Weather changes may trigger your headaches

AP Photo/Dave Hammond 

People have been blaming the weather for their aches and pains for centuries. Some claim they can forecast the weather in their hips or knees. Other scoff. Now, science suggests some of these people may be on to something.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, say higher temperatures and low barometric pressure do indeed seem to set off migraine, tension and other severe headaches. Their results appear in the March 10 issue of the journal Neurology. (That's Oakland Athletics player Rickey Henderson, above, coping with a migraine that took him out of a game against the Orioles in July 1994.)

In what they describe as the first large-scale investigation of this weather lore, the Boston investigators looked at the medical records of more than 7,000 patients who visited the emergency room at the medical center between May 2000 and December 2007, and who were discharged with diagnoses of migraine, tension or unspecified headaches.

Then they looked at measurements of average air temperature, barometric pressure, humidity - as well as several measures of air pollution prior to those hospital visits, again on the same days of the week before or after their hospital visits during the same calendar month.

The idea that environmental factors can trigger migraine headaches is not new. Certain foods - such as aged wine and cheese - alcohol, stress and hormonal changes have long been recognized as headache "triggers." And some patients have long associated their maladies with changes in the weather.

"But none of these [weather factors] have been consistently verified. We wanted to find out if we could verify this clinical folklore. We also wanted to determine whether air pollutants trigger headaches, much as they have been found to trigger strokes," said Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, the study's lead author.

His findings revealed no significant impact from air pollutants, or from humidity. But higher average air temperatures in the 24 hours before these patients sought hospital care was the single factor most closely correlated with the headaches. Headache patients in the study had a 7.5 percent higher risk of suffering a severe headache for each increase of 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

That isn't a large increased risk compared to exposure to certain foods, or other potential migraine "triggers," and it may not be an important consideration in the way these patients are treated, Mukamal acknowledges in the paper. But the fact that everyone is exposed to the weather, while only a fraction would be exposed to other triggers, the public health impact of higher temperatures would likely be much greater. 

Also significant, but less so, were changes in air pressure. Changes in pressure didn't seem to be a factor, but lower barometric pressures 48 to 72 hours prior to the ER visits also seemed to correlate best with the severe headache symptoms that followed.

The study had some limitations, the authors agreed. They relied on regional weather data, not readings for each patient, so their personal exposures were not recorded. They also knew when the patients appeared at the hospital, but could not say when the patients'  headaches began. 

Nevertheless, "these findings help tell us that the environment around us does affect our health and, in terms of headaches, may be impacting many, many people on a daily basis," Mukamal said.

Still unclear is how this happens. "[Higher] temperature has a host of physiological effects, including lower blood pressure," Mukamal said in an email message. "How those lead to headache is uncertain, but we don't understand the full mechanisms behind headaches at this point, so hopefully this will point us in new directions." 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:00 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Science
        

Comments

When someone is in headache/depression, eating less and enjoying favorite sports will be helpful, from my perspective.

I never wish migraines on anyone - I've had them for 30+ years - but when someone makes an ignorant comment like the one above it makes me wish the commenter could experience one.

was forced to give up my college course. My social life was also badly affected.
I tried cutting out the usual food triggers

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Sign up for FREE weather alerts*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for weather text alerts
SKY NOTES WEATHER

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Maryland Weather Center


Area Weather Stations
Resources and Sun coverage
• Weather news

• Readers' photos

• Data from the The Sun's weather station

• 2011 stargazers' calendar

• Become a backyard astronomer in five simple steps

• Baltimore Weather Archive
Daily airport weather data for Baltimore from 1948 to today

• National Weather Service:
Sterling Forecast Office

• Capital Weather Gang:
Washington Post weather blog

• CoCoRaHS:
Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. Local observations by volunteers

• Weather Bug:
Webcams across the state

• National Data Buoy Center:
Weather and ocean data from bay and ocean buoys

• U.S. Drought Monitor:
Weekly maps of drought conditions in the U.S.

• USGS Earthquake Hazards Program:
Real-time data on earthquakes

• Water data:
From the USGS, Maryland

• National Hurricane Center

• Air Now:
Government site for air quality information

• NWS Climate Prediction Center:
Long-term and seasonal forecasts

• U.S. Climate at a Glance:
NOAA interactive site for past climate data, national, state and city

• Clear Sky Clock:
Clear sky alerts for stargazers

• NASA TV:
Watch NASA TV

• Hubblesite:
Home page for Hubble Space Telescope

• Heavens Above:
Everything for the backyard stargazer, tailored to your location

• NASA Eclipse Home Page:
Centuries of eclipse predictions

• Cruise Critic: Hurricane Zone:
Check to see how hurricanes may affect your cruise schedule

• Warming World:
NASA explains the science of climate change with articles, videos, “data visualizations,” and space-based imagery.

• What on Earth:
NASA blog on current research at the space agency.
Most Recent Comments
Blog updates
Recent updates to baltimoresun.com news blogs
 Subscribe to this feed
Charm City Current
Stay connected