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Can a Migraine Headache be Triggered by the Weather?

Living with chronic migraines can be very challenging. While your symptoms can be hard to predict, it helps to know what your migraine triggers are. Many people notice an increase in migraines during the winter months and ask themselves if the weather caused it.

Woman develops migraine after the weather gets colder

The answer is often “yes”!

Headaches can be a mystery, even to headache specialists. Most medical professionals believe that a combination of factors play a role in triggering migraine attacks. These can range from genetics to neurovascular imbalances in the brain. We’re going to look at the environmental factors, like the weather, that could be triggering your migraine symptoms.

Weather Factors that Trigger Headaches

In a survey by the National Headache Foundation, participants were given a list of 16 potential migraine triggers and asked to rank them. Three-quarters of the survey participants said that weather triggers their headache pain. These weather factors included:

  • Changes in humidity
  • Storms
  • Extremely dry air
  • Dusty environments
  • Changes in temperature

More specifically, here are the percentages for how many people in the survey listed a given factor as having an effect on their migraine symptoms:

  • Weather or barometric pressure changes: 73%
  • Intense odors: 64%
  • Bright or flickering lights: 59%
  • Smoke: 53%
  • Extreme heat or cold: 38%
  • Altitude changes: 31%
  • High winds: 18%

Most of the participants in this migraine clinical study reported these factors as a hindrance from day-to-day activities such as outdoor recreation. Surprisingly the survey also found that not many people had discussed these environmental factors with their doctors. Only one third of the participants said they had addressed this topic with their healthcare provider.

What Aspects of the Weather Trigger Your Headaches?

According to follow-up research by Marcelo E. Bigal, M.D., Ph.D., director of research at the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache, the weather is a notable trigger for migraine headaches. However, he believes that many participants misidentified the specifics.

Can Migraines be Triggered by the Weather?

Most participants thought they could predict which weather factor triggered their migraines– many were incorrect. While heat, storms or high humidity can cause headaches,  it’s actually the change in humidity, temperature, or barometric pressure that triggers these migraine symptoms.

Bigal also said that people who get headaches related to the weather often blame them on sinus problems. They are likely not sinus headaches but migraines. In fact, 1 in 8 American Adults (36 million people!) suffer from recurrent migraines.

Weather-Related Headaches Overreported

Another interesting aspect of the study is the amount of weather-related migraines reported. According to the survey, 48% of people said they were sensitive to the weather. But the researchers determined that in reality this was true of only 39%. This means that 10% of people incorrectly pegged themselves as sensitive to weather.

Some further statistics are as follows:

  • 34% were sensitive to a change in temperature or humidity
  • 14% were sensitive to a changing weather pattern
  • 13% were sensitive to a change in barometric pressure
  • 10% were sensitive to more than one type of weather factor

Dr. Bigal said, “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. 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.”

Migraines are a complicated topic. In any case, the weather can trigger your headaches! You may not be able to control the weather, but keeping a headache journal or paying close attention to what sets yours off are great ways to be proactive.

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