The (Kinda-Sorta) Link Between Weather and Headaches

Many people feel like the weather affects their headaches … but is there science to back it up?

Many people report that weather conditions such as barometric pressure changes, wind, humidity, cold and dryness can trigger their headaches. However, the verdict’s still out as to whether there’s an actual scientific link between weather and headaches.

One study, conducted over seven years and involving more than 7,000 patients, found that increasing temperatures and decreasing barometric pressure over 24 hours led to an increase in risk of headache requiring a trip to the ER over the next two to three days. 1

In another study of 77 headache clinic participants, patients were given a questionnaire determining their beliefs about how strongly weather triggered their headaches; then the study authors analyzed weather data from the National Weather Service. The results? The study found that weather affected the migraines of about half of the participants. But get this: two-thirds of the study participants believed that weather was a factor.  This suggests that fewer people are actually affected by the weather than believe they are. 2

On the other hand, a different recent study, which examined the impact of weather on the risk of occurrence and persistence of headaches and migraines, failed to find any connection. 3

The bottom line is that more research is needed to determine whether constantly changing weather variables can indeed trigger or exacerbate headaches. It may simply be that weather has no bearing on the headaches of some people, while others are susceptible to changing conditions.

Taking note of temperature, barometric pressure and any other conditions that may be a trigger in a headache diary could help you better understand your head pain.  Consult your doctor about possible headache triggers to determine the proper headache treatment for you.

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1. Mukamal, Kenneth J., Wellenius, Gregory A., Suh, Helen H., and Mittleman, Murray A. Weather and air pollution as triggers of severe headaches. Neurology. Mar 10, 2009; 72(10): 922-927. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2677474/

2. Prince PB, Rapoport AM, Sheftell FD, Tepper SJ, Bigal ME. The effect of weather on headache. Headache. 2004 Jun;44(6):596-602. PubMed PMID: 15186304. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15186304

3. Zebenholzer K, Rudel E, Frantal S, Brannath W, Schmidt K, Wöber-Bingöl C, Wöber C. Migraine and weather: a prospective diary-based analysis. Cephalalgia. 2011 Mar;31(4):391-400. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21112983

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