Rising heat waves trigger migraines for millions in the U.S.

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11th July 2024 – (New York) As climate change intensifies heat waves across the globe, an estimated 39 million Americans who suffer from migraines find their condition exacerbated by the increasingly harsh weather, according to data from the American Migraine Foundation. Elizabeth Loder, who leads the Headache Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, highlights that weather changes trigger migraines for half of these patients.

The relationship between migraines and weather is complex, involving multiple environmental factors such as high temperatures, shifts in barometric pressure, and high humidity. These elements are known to provoke headaches in migraine sufferers, with direct sunlight often being a significant trigger.

“The migraine brain craves consistency,” explained Jessica Ailani, a neurologist and director of the Headache Center at MedStar Georgetown. She noted that any significant fluctuation in environmental conditions could disrupt the delicate balance required by individuals with migraines. This sensitivity underscores the broader challenges faced by those who struggle with this condition.

The biological mechanisms through which heat influences migraine are not fully understood, but experts suggest several possible explanations. Elizabeth Loder pointed out that extreme heat can lead to dehydration, causing the brain to contract slightly and tug on the surrounding blood vessels, potentially triggering severe headaches.

Moreover, Narayan Kissoon, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, explained that high temperatures might impact neuron function in the brain. This alteration can activate the pain centres in the brain, leading to migraines. These findings highlight the direct and indirect ways in which temperature and weather changes can affect neurological health.