Migraine Headaches and Barometric Pressure

I am a frequent sufferer of debilitating migraine headaches. Those of you out there who understand what I mean when I say “debilitating migraine” will most likely also understand what I am saying when I report that I, with a lot of help from my husband, go to great lengths to track circumstances around the occurrences of my migraine headaches. I look for anything that stands out about the time before and during the migraine, anything that might stick out as a pattern leading up to the attack, anything that might be seen as a trigger to the migraine, anything at all that I might use to predict, or better yet, avoid a migraine. One of the most substantial triggers for my migraines, as evidenced by our data, appears to be any occasion of a significant increase or decrease in barometric pressure. Having grown up in barometrically stable Southern California, monitoring the level of barometric pressure in the atmosphere was not something I had ever given any thought to. When my husband began to notice the pattern of changing pressure systems preceding my migraine headaches I was confounded. I had never heard of such a thing.

And so began my research into the effects of barometric pressure on migraine headaches.

If you think about it, people have been associating their physical and medical conditions with the weather forever. How often have you heard someone predict rain on the way because of a flare up in their arthritis or sciatica? As it turns out, there is physical correlation with the condition of the body and the level of barometric pressure in the atmosphere.

One theory regarding the correlation between migraine headaches and barometric pressure is that the severe rise or drop in pressure that occur during a significant weather change cause the blood vessels in the brain to constrict or to dilate. Changes in the expansion of the cranial blood vessels has long been believed to be a leading contributing factor to the cause of migraine headaches, but the possibility that a change in barometric pressure can actually cause this constriction and expansion is a theory that has been more recently considered. While not all scientists currently support this theory, or in fact, support the correlation between migraine headaches and barometric pressure at all, most health care professionals I have spoken with who work with migraine headache sufferers absolutely believe that a connection exists between the changes in atmospheric pressure and the occurrence of their patients’ migraines.

Another theory that has been posed to me regarding the questions surrounding barometric pressure and its effects on migraine headaches is that the change in pressure in the atmosphere may also cause the cranial fluid in the brain to expand, placing more pressure on the bones of the cranium and on the brain itself.

Finally, there is a theory that the change in atmospheric pressure may actually affect the electrical activity of the brain. In a study conducted by a group of researchers at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, it was determined that when compared with normal individuals, electrical activity in the migraine victims’ brains, as measured by an electroencephalogram, was less organized and reached a higher intensity during the weather shifts (http://www.personalmd.com/altmedicine_update1.shtml).

So what use is discovering the connection between barometric pressure and migraine headaches? After all, there is nothing we mortal souls can do about the weather, so how is it helpful to know that there might be a pressure front coming that is placing you at risk for a migraine headache? Well, there are a few ways that recognizing the effects of barometric pressure on your migraine headache cycles might benefit you. First of all, most migraine medications work best when taken at first sign of a migraine. Knowing that a change in barometric pressure is predicted will help you to be on your guard, so that you might notice the first, ambiguous, “off” feelings that many migraine sufferers often experience for hours, sometimes days before the aura preceding the migraine starts. By medicating prophylactically, some migraine headache sufferers may actually be able to treat the migraine before it starts. Another benefit of knowing that an impending change in barometric pressure may put you at risk for a migraine headache is that you will know to be very careful to avoid other migraine triggers. Few sufferers of migraine headaches have just one trigger. For some, certain foods may also affect their migraine cycles. Stress can be another trigger, as can exposure to fumes or sharp, strong odors. Fresh air and sunlight can be a reverse trigger for others. Knowing that one, unalterable, unavoidable trigger is coming down the pike will clue sufferers in that they will need to be more vigilant about the alterable, avoidable triggers to place themselves in the best possible condition to stave off the attack.

The influence that barometric pressure has on sufferers of migraine headaches is a topic that still requires more study in order to determine the specific nature of the correlation that one has to the other. However, by my account and by the accounts of many, many victims of migraine headaches, change in barometric pressure is certainly a significant trigger of these monster headaches. Knowing that such a correlation exists is a piece of the puzzle that forms the picture of these severe, debilitating headaches.

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