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Britain’s Crazy Weather Could Be Causing Your Headache

Posted Mar 10 2009 3:53pm

Did you suffer from a headache over this past weekend? If you did, there could be a less obvious reason for it than your Friday night boozing session.

Scientists are suggesting dramatic changes in the weather could be the culprit as an increase in temperature or decline in barometric pressure - which can signal the onset of a thunderstorm - could cause a headache.

We were all welcoming the warmer weather as it rose to 13.8C in London on Saturday - making it 5C hotter than on Thursday. However it may not have been quite so welcome by headache sufferers, some of whom have had their suspicions about the weather bringing on their pain for a while.

Scientific research has now looked into the connection to prove these are more than superstitious old wives tales. More than 7,000 sufferers of severe headaches who sought treatment from an A&E department were observed, and researchers found that the common denominator in all the cases was a rise in temperature in the last 24 hours.

The study showed that with every 5C increase in temperature, came a 7.5 per cent increased risk of a severe headache. Decrease in barometric pressure also had a less obvious effect. Other factors like humidity and air pollution however, were found to not have any effect.

Although a link has been proven, the reason for that link is still unknown.

Kenneth Mukamal, who led the study published in Neurology, said, “Our results are consistent with the idea that severe headaches can be triggered by external factors. These findings tell us that the environment around us does affect our health and, in terms of headaches, may be impacting many, many people.”

Approximately 18 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men cope with migraines, which occur in the young more often than the elderly. It is already known that migraines can be triggered by factors including specific foods, alcohol, stress and hormones. However, arguments have raged about if weather plays any part.

Granted, it will be hard for people to avoid the weather to minimise risk, but doctors could prescribe medication to alleviate the effects.

Peter Goadsby, the director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Headache Centre and a professor of neurology at the Institute of Neurology, in London, said, “An interesting study that confirms earlier
research from Canada that barometric pressure change – and here, increased temperatures – can precipitate migraine. The challenge for clinical science is to link this seemingly odd trigger to the brain mechanisms involved in migraine.”

Dr Andrew Dowson, the chairman of the medical advisory board of the British charity Migraine Action, said, “The study … recognises three main problems: that the doctors did not diagnose as per the International
Headache Society guidelines; that the temperature was not that personally experienced by the patient but rather a central reading for the geographical area; and that the timing of the onset of headache was not accurate (the time of hospital contact was recorded). In addition of course we must recognise that most people with headache do not attend casualty or even call a doctor but simply self medicate and rest.

“I am sure that migraineurs will be interested in these results, which will likely confirm personal observations more often than surprise.”

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