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Study: Weather Change Can Trigger Throbbing Headaches

March 9, 2009

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By Kate Stinchfield

MONDAY, March 9, 2009 (Health.com) — Most people who are prone to headaches or migraines suspect that certain things, such as red wine or strong perfume, can trigger their head pain. Now a new study suggests that rising temperatures could trigger headaches, too.

According to a study published Monday in the journal Neurology, a spike in temperature may be enough to land some headache-prone people in the emergency room. The researchers found that for every 5-degrees-Celsius increase in temperature, the risk of a hospital-related headache visit went up 7.5 percent in the next 24-hour period. And a drop in barometric air pressure, which tends to happen before it rains, was also linked to a greater risk of headaches in the next 48 to 72 hours.

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While people may think they’ve got a handle on their migraine triggers, in truth, weather changes may be to blame for at least some of those headaches, says Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “In the summer, you may think that ice cream set off your migraine,” he says. “But it wasn’t the ice cream—it was the temperature increase on that very hot day that led you to eat the ice cream.”

Dr. Mukamal’s team looked at 7,054 patients diagnosed with headaches in the emergency room of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center over a span of seven years; they compared factors like temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and pollution for the period immediately preceding and following each patient’s hospital visit. While temperature and barometric pressure were linked to headaches, pollution—which is linked to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke—was not associated with migraines. But Dr. Mukamal isn’t ruling out the possibility. “Our city was not big enough to say for sure that air pollution is off the hook,” he says, adding that a similar study performed in Los Angeles (where air pollution levels are considerably higher) might yield different results.

Next page: How to avoid temperature change-related migraines


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