A number of research studies have examined the possible relationship between weather and migraines. These have yielded a variety of conclusions, some supporting the notion that weather changes are a migraine trigger, some not. But for the first time researchers have collected data supporting the notion that lightning and associated weather factors may be a migraine trigger.
Researchers from a group of universities across the United States recruited 90 patients from the St. Louis and Cincinnati areas who met specific demographic criteria, including a diagnosis of migraine according to the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD). The mean age of study participants was 43.6 and 91% were women.
Instead of relying on the reports of the individuals involved in the study to gather information about instances of lightning strikes, the researchers utilized professional weather data compiled by a company that uses sensors to detect electromagnetic signals coming from lightning and other technology that traces the timing of strikes. Together these technologies provide the ability to identify the occurrence and timing of lightning strikes with 90% accuracy.
According to the results of the study, lightning and weather conditions are associated with presence of headache and migraine on a particular day and development of headache and migraine on an otherwise headache- or migraine-free day. Overall the presence of headache increased by 31% and migraine increased by 28% on lightning days. The occurrence of new onset headache increased by 24% and and migraine increased by 23% on lightning days.
The researchers said lightning seemed to be a significant predictor of headache frequency even when their data was adjusted for other weather-related variables, such as barometric pressure. They offered a few potential explanations for why lightning could be a migraine trigger, but all are speculative at this juncture and quite complex.
It is important to note that the two cities from which study participants were recruited are both in the Midwest. Therefore, these findings may not be broadly applicable to the rest of the United States or the world. In fact, a study examining lightning strikes and migraine attacks in Germany didn’t seem to establish the same correlation as this research did. Additionally, as these study participants experience frequent headaches and migraine attacks, the results may not be applicable to people with fewer headaches and migraine attacks.
Future studies should help clarify whether lightning or thunderstorms more generally are triggers for migraine attacks and how, if at all, these factors trigger the migraine brain to produce an attack.
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