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Weather is overestimated as a trigger of migraines

(Vienna, 16 Dec. 2010) A study conducted by MedUni Vienna in cooperation with the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) in Vienna has investigated the connection between weather conditions and headaches.

Migraine attacks, which some 5 percent of men and 15 percent of women in Europe suffer from, progress differently in every human. Many people who suffer from migraines believe that their migraine is triggered by certain weather conditions or weather-related factors and, in particular, weather changes. A study conducted by the Department of Neurology at MedUni Vienna under Dr. Karin Zebenholzer and Univ. Prof. Dr. Christian Wöber (head of the working group on headaches) has now shown that weather is considerably overrated as a trigger for headaches.

To study the connection between migraines, headaches and the weather, 238 patients kept a precise headache diary over 90 days in which they also had to answer questions on their subjective perception of the weather. Every day eleven pieces of weather data (such as air temperature and wind speed) were recorded and the changes of these weather data compared to the previous day calculated. In addition the weather condition (such as a ridge of high pressure or low) was identified for every day.

In the first step of data analysis, there were still indications that a ridge of high pressure might increase the risk of headache, and a lower average wind speed during the day as well as the change of sunshine duration from one day to the next might increase the risk of migraine. It also became apparent that a change of the minimum day temperature reduced the duration of migraines. In continued analysis however these findings were no longer significant from a statistical viewpoint.

It was discovered that the occurrence of migraines or headaches is not connected to weather change, which is frequently blamed as a cause of headaches, or to any other subjective perceptions of the weather.
“We don’t want to give the impression that the experiences of those affected are wrong,” emphasise the study authors. But they add that it makes more sense to see which other factors play a role. “In women for example the connection with menstruation is clearly proven. In addition, stress, mental tension or the subsiding of tension and even genetic factors play a role here,” says Zebenholzer. In everyday life these factors have a much bigger impact than the weather – particularly considering that we stay indoors most of the time anyway.

The study was conducted in cooperation with the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) in Vienna and published in Cephalalgia, the most important magazine on headaches

» Migraine and weather: A prospective diary-based analysis
Karin Zebenholzer, Ernest Rudel, Sophie Frantal, Werner Brannath, Karin Schmidt, Çiçek Wöber-Bingöl and Christian Wöber
Cephalalgia published online 26 November 2010 

» Department of Neurology | Headache outpatient ward