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Research Examines Link Between Headaches And Weather

March 10, 2009

A new study reported in the journal Neurology has produced some of the first large-scale data on how environmental conditions like weather and even air pollution influence headache pain.

Experts say air temperature as well as humidity and barometric pressure are often cited as a reason for headaches.

“None of these reasons have been consistently verified. We wanted to find out if we could verify this clinical folklore,” said Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, the study’s leader.

“We also wanted to determine whether air pollutants trigger headaches, much as they have been found to trigger strokes,” he told Reuter’s Health.

The study observed more than 7,000 men and women diagnosed with a headache or migraine at the hospital emergency room between May 2000 and December 2007.

Mukamal said the study was designed to directly compare weather and air pollution conditions right before an emergency room visit with those same factors measured earlier and later the same month.

The data showed that of all the environmental factors investigated, higher air temperature in the 24 hours before a hospital visit was most closely associated with headache symptoms. Lower barometric pressure also appeared to be a trigger, though the association was not as strong.

“Certainly our results are consistent with the idea that severe headaches can be triggered by external factors,” said Mukamal.

“These findings help tell us that the environment around us does affect our health and, in terms of headaches, may be impacting many, many people on a daily basis.”

The authors suggested that the weekly weather forecast could help people ready their medication to ward off headaches.

Approximately 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men in the U.S. report having migraine headaches, particularly young and middle-aged adults, Mukamal said. It is estimated that costs associated with migraines total 17 billion dollars in the United States.

He recommends that headache patients sit down with their doctors to identify the triggers that lead to their headache symptoms.

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