Could Lightning Spur Headaches and Migraines?

FRIDAY Jan. 25, 2013 -- Lightning is associated with an increased risk of headaches and migraines, a new study suggests.

This finding could help chronic sufferers better predict the likelihood of a headache or migraine and begin preventive treatment, the University of Cincinnati researchers said.

The study found that chronic sufferers had a 31 percent greater risk of headache and a 28 percent increased risk of migraine on days when lightning struck within 25 miles of their homes. It did not, however, prove a cause-and-effect relationship between lightning and headaches.

New-onset headache and migraine increased by 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in patients when there was lightning, according to the study published online Jan. 24 in the journal Cephalalgia.

"Many studies show conflicting findings on how weather, including elements like barometric pressure and humidity, affect the onset of headaches," study co-leader Geoffrey Martin, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Cincinnati, said in a university news release. "However, this study very clearly shows a correlation between lightning, associated meteorological factors and headaches."

"We used mathematical models to determine if the lightning itself was the cause of the increased frequency of headaches or whether it could be attributed to other weather factors encountered with thunderstorms," study co-leader Dr. Vincent Martin, a headache expert and a professor in the division of general internal medicine, said in the news release.

"Our results found a 19 percent increased risk for headaches on lightning days, even after accounting for these weather factors," he added. "This suggests that lightning has its own unique effect on headache."

"There are a number of ways in which lightning might trigger headaches," Vincent Martin said. "Electromagnetic waves emitted from lightning could trigger headaches. In addition, lightning produces increases in air pollutants like ozone and can cause release of fungal spores that might lead to migraine."

"This study gives some insight into the tie between headaches or migraines and lightning and other meteorologic factors," Geoffrey Martin said. "However, the exact mechanisms through which lightning and its associated meteorologic factors trigger headache are unknown, although we do have speculations. Ultimately, 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."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about migraines.

Posted: January 2013


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