For many migraine sufferers, summer can be a very unpleasant and painful time of the year. What should be a time of outdoor fun can actually serve as a trigger for a migraine, as research suggests that heat also has an impact on migraine-prone individuals.
"Migraines are severe throbbing headaches that affect over 36 million Americans,” says Dr. Fawad Khan, a neurologist at Ochsner Medical Center. “They are typically triggered by certain external stimuli – foods, aromas/smells, bright lights or a change in the environment. As such, a spike in temperature is a common culprit for bringing on migraine headaches."
Studies have generally found higher rates of migraine in warmer seasons, and in one study with over 7,000 patients, researchers found that higher temperatures and, to a lesser degree, lower barometric pressure, led to an increase in risk of a headache requiring frequent emergency department evaluations.
The increased barometric pressure of summer thunderstorms, or sudden changes in humidity, can bring on a migraine. Temperature is another problem, as even a slight fluctuation in temperature may trigger a headache onset. And in steady summertime heat, it’s easy to get dehydrated, which can cause headaches even in people who do not experience migraines.
"Atmospheric pressure can influence the onset of a migraine because of its impact on blood vessels in and around the brain, causing them to dilate or swell," says Dr. Khan. "When a brewing storm causes the barometric pressure to change, migraine patients often report experiencing a typical aura or warning sign. The onset of a migraine is usually quick to follow that symptom. Some migraine sufferers are so sensitive that they can perceive aura-like symptoms even before the storm is visible in the sky. Surely, a migraine then accompanies the storm."
Medical research does offer hope that migraine sufferers can prevent headaches by being proactive.
To enjoy summer activities while avoiding migraine headaches, Dr. Khan offers these tips to patients:
- Run errands and exercise in the cooler morning or evening hours
- Apply cold packs to the head and/or neck
- Stay hydrated with cool beverages
- Wear sunglasses and avoid glare
- Keep a "headache diary" for several days to determine what usually causes your headaches
To see Dr. Khan discuss the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of migraine headaches, along with tips on living healthy with migraines, click here.