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Lightning Increases the Odds for Headache and Migraine

For many years, migraineurs have believed that changes in weather trigger their headaches, yet studies about this subject have been contradictory, with some research seeming to prove them right and other research indicating the opposite.

Recently, however, a father-son team of researchers led a study exploring the link between lightning and migraine. They found that when lightning struck within 25 miles of participants’ homes, for those who already experienced headache or migraine, the likelihood of developing a headache increased 31% and the likelihood of a migraine by 28%. Similarly, new-onset headache and migraine increased by nearly 25%.

One of the lead authors, Vincent Martin, MD, a physician and headache expert at the University of Cincinnati and the vice president of the NHF, noticed that thunderstorms seemed to trigger migraine in some of his patients. With colleagues, including his son, Geoffrey Martin, a fourth-year medical student at the school, he reviewed weather data and the records of 90 patients, 23 from Cincinnati and 67 from St. Louis, who had participated in earlier migraine-related clinical studies. Ninety-one percent of participants were female with a mean age of 43.6 and mean headache and migraine frequencies of 11.7 and 6.6 days per month.

Because lightning frequently accompanies thunderstorms and a variety of weather-related elements, researchers relied on mathematical models to remove the variables, such as barometric pressure, temperature and rain, and found that lightning alone was associated with an increased chance of headache.

“This suggests that lightning has a unique effect on headache that cannot be explained by other meteorological factors,” the authors stated.

The researchers put forth a variety of ideas about which factors might be responsible for these results, ranging from electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning to increased levels of air pollutants and fungal spores.

“Ultimately,” the authors concluded, “the effect of weather on headache is complex, and future studies will be needed to define more precisely the role of lightning and thunderstorms on headache.”

The study appeared in January in the journal Cephalalgia.

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