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Lightning As Migraine Trigger, What You Should Know

Lightning As Migraine Trigger, What You Should Know

Lightning may be joining chocolate, bright lights, and other items on the list of migraine triggers. According to researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC), lightning may have an impact on the onset of migraines and headaches, so keep an eye on the weather forecast.

Shedding light on a migraine trigger

The new study, which appears in the journal Cephalalgia, is the first time experts have outlined a relationship between lightning and migraine. In an editorial that accompanies the article, Hayrunnisa Bolay from Gazi University notes that “several previous studies have failed to provide its [lightning] correlation with the incidence of headache/migraine.”

Bolay also points out that people with migraine have claimed that weather factors can be migraine triggers, “though many studies either failed to show a link between particular weather components and incidence of headache or produced conflicting results in investigating major atmospheric variables.”

Enter Vincent Martin, MD, professor in general internal medicine and a headache expert, and Geoffrey Martin, a fourth-year medical student at UC. These individuals and their team used data from two clinical trials that involved a total of 90 (91% females) with a diagnosis of migraine.

All the participants had kept a daily diary for three to six months in which they recorded headache activity, the severity of their head pain, and any associated symptoms. The UC investigators used weather data from the archives of the National Climatic Data Center and other reliable sources.

Here is what the researchers found:

  • A 28 percent increased risk of migraine and a 31 percent increased risk of headache among chronic headache sufferers on days when lightning struck within 25 of the participants’ homes
  • A 24 percent and 23 percent increased risk of new-onset headache and migraine, respectively, when lightning struck

According to Geoffrey Martin, “this study very clearly shows a correlation between lightning, associated meteorological factors and headaches.” Vincent Martin also noted that they found a 19 percent increased risk of experiencing a headache on days with lightning even after they made concessions for other weather factors associated with thunderstorms.

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Why lightning may trigger migraine
Although the study provides provocative information about an association between lightning and migraine, the exact mechanisms are not yet known. There are several theories, however.

For example, lightning releases low-frequency electromagnetic waves called sferics, which may have a role in triggering migraine. Lightning also raises the level of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and ozone, which have been linked to headache and migraine.

Lightning and electrical storms can produce charged ions, and positive air ions have been linked to a greater risk of experiencing migraine. Yet another explanation may be that lightning releases fungal spores in the atmosphere, which may trigger migraine in susceptible individuals.

This latest study from the University of Cincinnati comes on the heels of research published in Neurology. In that report, investigators noted that migraine with aura triggers may not be as potent or important as previously believed.

A migraine with aura refers to episodes in which individuals experience visual disturbances and other sensory symptoms before the head pain starts, such as numbness, seeing flashing lights and/or wavy lines, tingling of the face and hands, and distorted sense of smell.

Bottom line
What value are the findings of this latest study on lightning and migraine? The authors note that if future studies confirm their findings, the information could help predict migraine in people who are sensitive to weather changes.

For now, however, if you suffer with migraine, you may want to keep an eye on the weather. If lightning is in the forecast, you can take preventive medication or other measures available in anticipation of this migraine trigger.

Boley H. En’lightning’ the impact of atmospheric conditions in headache. Cephalalgia 2013 Jan 24. Online before pub. Doi:10.1177/0333102412474507
Hougaard A et al. Provocation of migraine with aura using natural trigger factors. Neurology 2013 Jan 23. DOI:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31827f0f10
Martin G et al. Lightning and its association with the frequency of headache in migraineurs: an observational cohort study. Cephalalgia 2013 Jan 24. Online before pub. Doi: 10.1177/0333102412474502

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