Have you ever daydreamed about moving to a different climate so you could avoid weather-triggered migraine attacks? I made such a move almost four years ago. While your experience could be different, here’s how it worked out for me.
My chronic migraine went from manageable to severe while I still lived in my hometown, Phoenix. I could still work, but barely. Then I relocated for my husband’s job, moving from Phoenix to Seattle then from Seattle to Boston six years later. Over those years, the migraine attacks became increasingly debilitating until I was housebound and often bedridden. Only after six months in Boston, where the weather changes frequently, did I conclude that weather is definitely a trigger for me. That’s when my husband and I began talking about moving back to Phoenix.
Before making the decision, I took two three-week trips to Phoenix, one in May and one in September. I felt great both times. I still had daily migraine attacks, but could function pretty well and was able to leave the house nearly every day. I went to yoga and saw friends, went out to dinner and shopped in Phoenix’s plethora of thrift shops. The improvement was so drastic that deciding to move was almost a no-brainer.
That huge improvement persisted for the first three months after the move. Then the migraines got bad again. The pain wasn’t as severe as it was in Boston, where it was a level 9 most days and even hit 10 at times (the only time in my life when I’ve rated the pain at a 10). Instead, it hit 7 nearly every day and level 8 pain was pretty common. The nausea that left me gaunt when I was in Seattle and Boston abated enough that I could get back to a healthy weight. But all that going out I did on my visits to Phoenix? It pretty much stopped three months after moving.
Even this relatively small reduction in pain severity and nausea was enough to help me identify more triggers. It was also enough of an improvement that a preventive I took in Boston without success was effective when I tried it again after moving to Phoenix.
Would I make the move again? Yes, but only if I already had friends and family in the new place. I wouldn’t move to a place where I didn’t know anyone, even if the climate were way better for migraine than it is in Phoenix. The rewards are too uncertain and, for me, the risk is too great.
Twice in the time my migraines were severely debilitating, I moved to cities where I didn’t know anyone. Thinking about how hard it was to establish a life in a new city when I was so sick makes me tear up 11 years later. I had no support system in either Seattle or Boston and wasn’t able to nurture new relationships in the way that is required to make them grow. Canceling plans is hard on any friendship; it is almost always deadly for new ones.
Given this, you can probably imagine that I’m hesitant when people ask me whether moving to a different climate would help their migraine attacks. There’s no guarantee that a move will improve the migraines and getting established in a new place when you have severe, frequent migraines is very difficult.
My caution stems from the heartrending experiences I’ve had, but I know of a half dozen migraineurs who have moved to very different climates and had a significant reduction in their migraine frequency and severity. One woman didn’t change climates, but went from a big city to a small town in the mountains, which did the trick for her. However, I’ve heard from at least as many people who moved and had their migraine severity not change or worsen.
“Well, moving might help, but it might not” isn’t exactly a satisfying or illuminating response to the question of relocating to reduce migraine attacks. Unfortunately, as will most things migraine, there is no easy answer. If your life allows for it, an extended visit in another place is the best way to check. A full year is ideal so you can experience all the weather the new location has to provide. Otherwise, you have to follow your instinct – and be wary of the tendency to romanticize your imagined new life or assume you’ll have far fewer migraine attacks after the move. That’s bitten me more times than I care to admit.
Have you relocated to avoid weather-triggered migraine attacks? How much did it help you? Would you do it again?