Is There a Migraine Headache in Your Forecast?
Does the weather seem to bring on a migraine? You’re not imagining it. The fall in barometric pressure may be to blame. Here’s how to minimize your suffering.
Does the weather report often have you worried you’ll see a migraine in your forecast? Whether it’s an approaching thunderstorm or even a bright sunny day — either one can leave you with a pounding headache.
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People often tend to lump headaches and migraines into the same bucket, says headache specialist Jennifer Kriegler, MD. “Many think migraines are just really bad headaches, which is not altogether true,” she says. “Headaches and migraines can have different causes.”
Headaches of any level of pain can be symptoms of a migraine attack, but a migraine is actually a neurological disease or brain imbalance that causes a lot of other symptoms in addition to headaches.
These include sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dizziness, blurred vision, numbness, tingling or weakness in rare cases.
Migraine episodes result from different signals interacting with your brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves which cause any of the symptoms above. During a migraine headache in particular, specific nerves of the blood vessels are activated and send pain signals to the brain.
Research shows that changes in weather patterns are tied to changes in barometric pressure and temperature, and in turn this can be associated with the onset of mild to severe headaches.
“For some people, it’s a fall in barometric pressure, for others, it could be a quick rise in temperature. Either way when these pressure changes occur most commonly during a storm, a headache can be triggered,” Dr. Kriegler says.
For what we consider to be the effect of weather on migraines, we’re most likely talking about how weather can contribute to the headache part of a migraine episode.
During a storm, cold and warm air mix to create variations in barometric (or air) pressure. This also is how wind, rain and thunderstorms are created. Barometric pressure is also known as the atmospheric pressure being applied against a given area — and in this case that “area” is you.
Because your nasal and sinus cavities are air channels any change in that pressure, especially a fall in barometric pressure, affects those areas. This forces fluid into tissues and can cause a disruption in fluid balance.
Some researchers also think the barometric change may affect the pressure on your brain and how the way your brain blocks or doesn’t block pain.
“Weather is certainly not the only reason we get headaches. Stress, specific over-the-counter medicines like analgesics or pain killers, hormonal triggers and certain disorders related to sleep for example may also be causes,” Dr. Kriegler says.
“And while you can’t control the weather, you can take steps to minimize the your risk, severity and treatment of a headache or migraine attack by following some best practices.”
“If you seem prone to migraine headaches or if they are disrupting your life, be sure to talk to your doctor,” Dr. Kriegler says. “He or she will work with you to identify triggers as well as the best treatments.”