Migraine Triggers: The Power of Weather
Weather and barometric changes can be an underestimated, yet powerful trigger for many Migraineurs. Just how powerful is the weather’s effect on our bodies? I wanted to take a minute out and talk about that. My story is one that includes a particular passion of mine: horses.
I live on a farm. I used to manage and operate one of the area’s larger horse breeding facilities and I have helped horses give birth many, many times over many years.
In the horse world, most breeds consider a horse’s birthday to be January 1 of each year, no matter what day the horse was actually born, even if that day was December 31. Because the majority of equine activities rely at least partly on the age of the horse – yearlings compete with yearlings, two year olds with two year olds etc – it is important that a foal (baby horse) is born as close to, or after its *birthday* of January 1 as possible. The later in the year the foal is born, the less mature it will be when it competes against others in its age group, putting him/her at a disadvantage. This means breeders will often plan for their foals to be born during times where weather and accompanying barometric pressure changes, can be highly variable from day to day.
As a breeding manager, we loved it when the weather changed, especially if a good storm was coming in.
Because we knew our foals would likely be born.
You see serious horse breeders attend the birth of their foals to be sure they are born healthy and that there are no problems. Birth for a horse is miraculous, but also fairly violent in nature. It happens in mere minutes and usually in the middle of the night in private, and if something goes wrong seconds can be the difference between a life and death situation. Additionally, horses are large, powerful animals. Getting one out of trouble can be scary and dangerous for the horse and the attendant.
So where does the weather part come into play?
Mares (mother horses) frequently foal (give birth) during or right after storms. The bigger the storm or the greater the change in weather, the more chance your mare will give birth. For centuries breeders have noticed that the changes that come with an alteration in the weather frequently drive horses to foal, and for centuries we have used these changes to plan our days (and nights) on “foal watch.”
An example: At our farm there are 8 mares scheduled to foal within the next 2 1/2 weeks or so. When a storm came through this weekend, 6 of the mares foaled. One was a little earlier than she should have been.
We don’t entirely understand why these changes trigger the birth of a foal. Is it barometric pressure, or positive ions or something else? That doesn’t change the fact that it works. We can use this knowledge to help us plan and hopefully avert bad situations.
How do we know if weather is one of our Migraine triggers?
Keeping a Migraine journal can be one of the most helpful things you can do to discover predictable triggers like weather, or barometric pressure changes. Migraine.com offers a journal tool to help you keep track of your attacks and gives you places to record information that may be helpful in discovering a weather related trigger.
Some patients are very easily notice weather as a trigger, while other patients (like me) are much more difficult.
In my case, we were sure I had no weather related triggers. We kept a journal and included a recording of the weather that day and the day before and after, thinking that would cover my bases. Nothing matched up, so we moved on looking for other triggers.
In reality, it took years to figure out that I DID have weather related triggers, but I am actually extremely sensitive to them, so it is the pressure changes that we keep track of more than the actual weather itself. Another clue to my weather triggers was learning that air travel frequently triggered Migraine attacks for me. When you fly by air, you are exposed to pressure change triggers that can clue you in to your weather related triggers, and vice versa.
What can I do if I have a weather related trigger?
The good part of a weather trigger, is that it is often one of the easier triggers to predict.
The bad part is that it is nearly impossible to prevent unless you’re open to relocation.
You can plan ahead if you know you have these triggers, and sometimes you can do things that can prevent the attack before it hits you. Here are some examples:
- One of the first and best things to do is to take care to minimize all your other triggers as soon as you know a front is coming through. Triggers are cumulative, so keeping them minimized is important. This is often inconvenient and difficult, but also helpful.
- Some physicians have found that asking their patients to watch the pressure changes and weather carefully, and carrying their abortive with them to take at the first sign of a Migraine attack is helpful.
- Other doctors have tried using a long-acting triptan like Frova when a major change (or air flight) is going to happen, and for some patients this can be helpful in avoiding the attack. Care should be taken that it is not taken too frequently though. Not only is it expensive, it can cause Medication Overuse Headache aka rebound.
- Other physicians prescribe a medication called Diamox (acetazolamide) for their patients with pressure or weather related triggers. This medicine is also used in non-Migraineurs to help prevent altitude sickness, and is important in the treatment of another headache disorder called Intracranial Hypertension. The medicine can be taken long term, or just when the trigger is imminent. As with any other medicine, there is no guarantee it will work for anyone, and the medicine isn’t going to be an option for everyone. It might be worth talking to your doctor about though if you find these triggers are a serious problem for you.
- I have heard of a couple of patients who found that taking magnesium helped them with their weather triggers. Not only do they supplement daily with it, but will add additional magnesium, or soak in Epsom salts or indulge in magnesium oil massages if they find out a weather front or barometric pressure change is coming, continuing until it has passed and the weather has once again stabilized.
- Some who concentrate on the body’s lymph system will tell patients that massage alone followed by increasing water intake for 24 hrs, concentrating on increasing the body’s ability to circulate and eliminate lymph (your body’s trash system) can be helpful to prevent a weather related trigger. I have no experience trying this, but it requires no prescription and at the very least may aid in relaxation.
- For many with weather related triggers who live in areas where there are frequent changes triggering their attacks, the best option is often starting on a long term preventive regimen. A consistent regimen may be helpful, but it must be continued even when weather triggers aren’t a problem. Here the operative word really is consistency.
For me, I’ve found an unconventional way to treat my weather related problems. In my case, a muscle relaxant called Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) is sometimes helpful when I feel stiffness coming on related to pressure changes and the joint pain I experience as a result of them. Muscle spasms and stiffness are a Migraine trigger for me, and getting ahead of the game before they have triggered my attack has saved me on many occasions.
Do you have weather related triggers? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with other patients with these triggers? Have you tried any of the methods I’ve mentioned above? Let’s talk weather!