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Seasonal Migraine

Seasonal changes impacts the human body in many different ways. There are people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a form of depression that strikes the same time each year. Others experience allergies seen only in certain seasons.

The International Headache Society does not recognize the term seasonal migraine, but some people may use this term to describe migraine attacks that occur more often in one season. Migraines that occur more frequently in a particular season are most likely due to increased exposure to certain triggers. For instance, after exposure to the sun, up to 30 percent of migraine sufferers have attacks, compared to just 7 percent of those with tension headaches.

Why do the seasons impact migraines?

Light and sleep habits are well known influences on migraines. These factors also change with the seasons and may alter the mechanisms in the brain responsible for migraines. Migraine with aura sufferers who live in arctic areas had more migraine attacks during the summer, which are known for their long, extremely bright days. Migraine sufferers worldwide have long reported that bright sunlight triggers migraines. Some researchers believe that some of the body’s senses are super-sensitive in migraine sufferers, particularly vision. Therefore bright lights cause migraines in some sufferers. This is called photophobia or sensitivity to light.

Weather and weather changes may also cause migraines. Doctors don’t fully understand why it seems that some migraines are weather related. Researchers speculate that the amount of sunlight might impact how well a person sleeps and lack of sleep can then trigger a migraine attack.

A 2005 study of 169 migraine sufferers found that 107 of them experienced differences in their migraine attacks based on the season. A third of those patients had migraine attacks more often during the lightest season. More than 75 percent of those who suffered from migraine with aura had seasonal differences in the frequency of their migraine attacks. Of those in the study who suffered from migraine without aura,only 46 percent reported seasonal differences.

Women with menstrually-related migraine didn’t experience a seasonal difference in their migraine attacks, according to a small 2008 study.

A study that examined 214 migraine sufferers who came to the hospital in South Carolina during two decades, found that most women were admitted during the spring season from March 21 to June 20. Another study showed that a group of adults polled had more migraine attacks in January and fewer in August.

Understanding your migraine triggers will help you and your doctor better manage your migraines.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Last reviewed: August 2014
Seasonal variation in migraine, Cephalalgia, Alstadhaug, 2005