Hurricanes, Pain, Migraines & Change

Migraine.com is alive with articles about the impact of weather on migraines. Still, with the gigantic 900-mile wide hurricane that swept through several southern states recently, I can’t help but think about how many people in the world were struggling with migraine pain on top of simply trying to survive the storm surge, high winds and flooding.

So many people with migraines feel like human barometers. We can feel the weather changing before it is even predicted.  And it’s not just an increase in pain when a storm is coming. Pain can come when the storm is leaving too.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of 40 years navigating life with this condition: migraines LOVE change. Change is like fuel or nourishment for migraines, without which the condition might not otherwise thrive. Whether a shift in hormones, a change in sleep schedule, changes in stress at home or work, or a change in barometric pressure – and whether it be from high to low, or vice versa, whatever the case, it affects migraines. It is the nature of the swing itself; change is the match that lights our migraines on fire.

If we believe in the concept of change as a driving force for migraine, then it would follow that one solution to quiet the condition would be remove all sources of change from our lives. Perhaps we could move to part of the world where the climate is as neutral as it gets. No big swings in terms of temperature, humidity, or storms. Women who struggle with hormonal migraines could seek an early hysterectomy in hopes of stopping the monthly changes in their cycle. Or they could wait until they reach menopause for the same goal.

For those of us facing high-level stress in our jobs, perhaps we would stop working because our migraines appear to be a call and response to our daily demands. Whatever the case, we could do our best to remove all sources of transition and attempt to live in the most regimented and regulated of ways.

Well guess what? Been there, done that. One of our featured writers relocated from Seattle to Arizona to seek a calmer more stable and dry climate. And while she experienced an initial improvement from the move, her pain soon resurfaced. As far as seeking an early hysterectomy for relief of hormonal migraine is concerned, the statistics aren’t great. Studies show that early entry  into  menopause actually leads to 2/3 of people experiencing a worsening of their migraines with only 1/3 improving.

I can personally attest to the fact that removing a stressful job from the mix does not necessarily mean that migraines will lift. For me, leaving work did not change the frequency or severity of my pain or related symptoms.

Try as we might, living in a completely controlled environment is both unattainable and will not necessarily provide that highly sought-after shelter from migraines. So, the question becomes: what can we do? The truth is that there are no easy answers and no one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to migraine. It is very helpful to gain as much clarity as possible as to your particular triggers (be they weather or stress related, hormonal, or tied to sensitivities to food, etc.). Some triggers can be avoided and others cannot. The millions of us living in the southeast couldn’t avoid Hurricane Matthew, for instance. So we return to those important basics that include working with a headache specialist to create a tailor-made treatment protocol, and having a support system to provide perspective and warmth when migraines get us down. And maybe we consider a career change to become a forecaster?

Can you predict weather changes before they happen? Are barometric pressure shifts a trigger for your migraines?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (11)
  • greybeard
    1 year ago

    Just to ask those that say the pressure change causes a migraine, what happens if fly in a small plane, large planes are pressurized, or dive or change altitudes. I ask because this would just have pressure as the only change, during a lot of storms have pressure changes along with these sprites/lightning.During most tests, you only want 1 variable.
    I bid all some peace from the pain I need to good to sleep, to much pain I fear maybe a fourth hurricane is following the two behind Irma

  • greybeard
    1 year ago

    I have migraines most of my life, I am now 62. They can be from short stabbings that make the pain of eight damaged discs feel like a walk in the park. I have had migraines that are level 8 on a 10 scale that can last for weeks without a break.

    The reason I am writing this note is due to hurricanes. I can predict hurricanes coming across the Atlantic, especially if they start off the coast of Africa. I know anywhere from 5-7 day prior to the storm even being shown on the weather stations. During the actual storm after it is named the pain is reduced and returns a few days before the storm ends.

    I work with a few people any one day I told them this and did not believe it so I started to tell them when I thought there would be a storm shown on the weather and when it would get named I was right 100% percent of the time given the 2-day window.

    With Irma not only did I tell them that this was one of the worst storms in recent times one or two things would happen two other hurricanes would follow in quick succession or the storm would go back out to sea and return a few times.

    My neurologist said it had nothing to do with barometric pressure but rather something to do with the electric charge of ions, this was 15 years ago. He discounted barometric pressure for a few reason I could fly small airplanes with no change in headaches and I am a scuba diver without any change in pain. I agree.

    Sometime in the last decade, it was discovered above the cloud cover of the storm at about 50,000 feet there are lightning storms that they have named sprites I think this is what I feel. I have no idea if this has any bearing, but in my mid teens a friend and I were walking up a dirt road that had water running down it, at the t6op of the hill there was a lightning strike which ran down the water and came up our feet, we both jumped or thrown 2-3 in the air. Local lightning storms have little if any effect on the migraines.

    Does this affect anyone else, having the worst migraines prior to a hurricane? I level i9n upstate NY.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi greybeard- Thanks so much for joining the conversation- and what a fascinating story you have to share! Your ability to predict hurricanes, as well as their severity, is quite remarkable. It’s interesting that you (and your physician) are stating that this ability to make hurricane predictions is unrelated to changes in barometric pressure. I have not heard of the electric ion charge theory, but certainly don’t discount anything when it comes to potential triggers. As to your other post, I do think many people that suffer from barometric pressure-related migraines do have intense migraines triggered by flying in small planes (I’m one of them!).

    I have to reach out to you on a separate note, however- and that is regarding the topic of lightning. I was fascinated to hear you were struck (it sounds like, perhaps secondarily?) when you were in your teens. I was also struck by lightning when I was 19. When I mentioned my experience to my migraine specialist, he said this was remarkable and mentioned there were some studies relating migraine and those who’d been struck by lightning. I haven’t been able to find this research- but your mention of the fact certainly caught my eye.

    And yes, you’re right- now we’ve got 2 or 3 hurricanes following the path of Irma. I certainly wish you and all of us out there in migraine-land, a peaceful fall in the midst of a very active hurricane season. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  • Casper6
    2 years ago

    I agree with all that was stated in the article. I wish there was more research into weather triggering migraines. I live in the mid west as well, and storms can just appear with in an hour. Also the change of seasons can send me into almost a week of migraines. I am lucky enough my abort medication will work, but the headache the next day comes at about the same time 24 hours later. I am positive weather has a big impact on my migraines.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Casper6! Thanks for joining the conversation. There actually have been a few studies revolving around weather and migraines. You may be interested in reading some of the articles at the previous link, especially Should the Weather Forecast Include a Migraine Alert?, Migraine Triggers: Weather Changes, and Weather: Your Worst Migraine Trigger.

    We’re glad to hear that your abortive is effective for you. We’re glad you’re here! -All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • cathyn
    2 years ago

    I experience weather-related migraines whenever there is a storm, cold front, high winds, etc. Unfortunately, I live in the Midwest where weather changes happen almost daily. I don’t experience migraines when in Florida or the Caribbean.
    As an interesting sidenote, one of the country’s leading migraine specialists told me that experts no longer believe it is the change is barometric pressure, but the changes in ions in the atmosphere that cause weather migraines. Unstable weather brings an increase in positive ions, which is bad news for migraneurs. I believe this is true because I’ve kept track and barometric changes either way don’t affect me at all. I wish more studies would be done.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Cathyn! Thanks for sharing that very interesting information! It would be really interesting if there was a way to measure ionic changes at home so we could journal it. – All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • kwaichang
    2 years ago

    Great article and info which confirmed what I’ve thought for a while. In VA we got hit with winds and rain and headaches too. I have thought that barometric pressure readings increased my migraines for years and “Nicole” confirmed that.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    2 years ago

    It can be helpful to connect the dots and uncover more information about our triggers. Glad this article helped affirm your suspicions. Some years back, to confirm my own suspicions, I purchased a barometric dial for my home to help me track changes. Of course these days you can use any weather app to track barometric pressure shifts to help you learn what sets you off the most (highs, lows, or the shifts in between the two). Tracking these things and becoming more clear on our triggers can help us try to seek ways to perhaps treat ourselves preventatively. If you know a storm is coming, for instance, perhaps you can speak to your doctor about taking an abortive medication early on to stave off an attack. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  • phorgan
    2 years ago

    I can definitely predict when a storm is coming. My migraine just keeps getting worse and worse.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    2 years ago

    It’s good to have such clarity that barometric pressure shifts are triggers for you. It might make sense to talk to your doctor about employing one of your treatment options proactively before a storm comes on the off chance you could stop it from becoming full-fledged. I’m glad you shared and wish you the best!

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