Here's What's Happening Now: When Weather Meets Migraine

August 28, 2018

Three studies explore how weather-related changes in migraine symptoms relate to atmospheric pressure, relative air humidity, and ambient temperature.

For people with headaches, it is widely recognized that variables in weather trigger pain and associated symptoms. Such conclusions are based on personal experiences and observations in relation to variations in daily weather patterns, such as rain, humidity, and temperature changes (not overall climate changes, which would be much more difficult for individual patients to notice).

The medical literature has only recently begun to define the correlation between headaches and weather. The relationship is important because the right treatment approaches could help prevent the hours and days of pain that take away valuable time from patients who suffer needlessly as a result of the weather.

Emerging information

Within the past few years, efforts to establish whether there is truly a connection between headaches and variables in weather have moved away from looking at pooled data, and instead, towards subgroup analysis.  Recent studies that show a correlation between headaches and weather changes reveal that only a subgroup of people who have headaches experience weather-influenced pain.

Weather variables and headache subtypes

A small study of 20 patients in Germany used information gleaned from headache diaries.1 Researchers found that 6 out of the 20 patients regularly experienced worsened severity of their headaches in association with low temperature and high humidity.

A few years later, the same researchers studied 100 migraine patients.2 Results showed that 13% of participants experienced weather-related changes in their migraine symptoms according to fluctuations in atmospheric pressure, relative air humidity, and ambient temperature. Interestingly, migraine-provoking weather variations were not consistent between patients but were consistent for individual patients. For example, one patient could experience migraines in response to increasing atmospheric pressure, while another experienced migraines in response to decreasing atmospheric pressure.

Another study looked at different types of head pain, separating the results by patients with migraine from patients with masticatory muscle pain.3 They found that the weather affected both groups differently. The migraine patients experienced more headache pain when the atmospheric pressure was high (clear weather), while the masticatory muscle pain group experienced more pain when the atmospheric pressure was low (rainy conditions). These results do not clarify an etiology or pathophysiology of pain, but, as with the other studies, they suggest that patients can learn to recognize their own pain patterns.

Treatment and prevention

There are no formal recommendations or medical approaches to treating this type of pain. Generally, pain medications such as non-steroidal pain medications are used for most migraine and headache episodes, and severe migraine pain is treated with migraine-specific medications such as triptans. While the medical literature does not describe proven preventative strategies for weather-related headaches, patients may develop their own approaches, such as taking headache relief medication based on weather forecasts, or even moving to a city with a different climate.

References:

1. Hoffmann J, Lo H, Neeb L, et al. Weather sensitivity in migraineurs. J Neurol. 2011;258:596-602.

2. Hoffmann J, Schirra T, Lo H, et al. The influence of weather on migraine - are migraine attacks predictable?Ann Clin Transl Neurol. 2015;2:22-28.

3. Cioffi I, Farella M, Chiodini P, et al. Effect of weather on temporal pain patterns in patients with temporomandibular disorders and migraine. J Oral Rehabil. 2017;44:333-339.