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Suffer from Migraines? Keep a Weather Eye Out for Headache Triggers

Dr. David Agnew believes those debilitating headaches may not be all in your head, could be related to barometric pressure changes

Some people may blame their headaches and migraines on common everyday annoyances, but Dr. David Agnew, a Santa Barbara neurologist and pain medicine specialist, believes barometric pressures may be at fault.

Dr. David Agnew encourages the use of preventative measures and medicine to keep migraine headaches at bay. 'If you can identify what causes your headaches, we can take these preventative measures and make sure it doesn’t spread and get out of hand,' he says.
Dr. David Agnew encourages the use of preventative measures and medicine to keep migraine headaches at bay. “If you can identify what causes your headaches, we can take these preventative measures and make sure it doesn’t spread and get out of hand,” he says. (Nick St.Oegger / Noozhawk file photo)

Having observed a number of patients with heightened sensitivity to weather changes, Agnew developed a theory that changes in weather patterns may create conditions that make some people more prone to migraines.

These patients described themselves as being more susceptible to headaches when there were low pressures and cold weather. Additionally, at higher altitudes, some patients found themselves experiencing more headaches, Agnew said.

With the stories of his patients, Agnew began to believe that climate and weather changes may play some role in the onset of migraines and headaches.

Agnew is quick to add that his theory isn’t new and that it’s widely recognized among neurologists.

Other physicians are able to connect weather patterns to pain-related incidents, even if they are unaware of the theory, he said.

Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said he is unfamiliar with the theory. But he noted that “the main weather elements that could be responsible for any aches or pains that people experience are most likely related to temperature changes and rate of pressure change.”

According to Dr. Jerry Swanson, a board-certified neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., people can be more sensitive to migraines during times of weather changes. He listed bright sunlight, hot or cold temperatures, high humidity, dry air, windy or stormy weather, and barometric pressure changes as possible triggers.

Swanson says such incidents create imbalances of chemicals in the brain, which can can cause headaches to worsen or migraines to arise.

Agnew stressed the importance of determining what sets off one’s pain.

“I’m a strong proponent of preventative medicine,” he said. “If we can nip it in the bud, then we should, because it’s harder to treat something after the fact.

“If you can identify what causes your headaches, we can take these preventative measures and make sure it doesn’t spread and get out of hand.”

Agnew finds it important especially to stop the progression of one’s migraine due to the extreme medical dangers it presents. More migraines tend to make people more prone to heart attacks and strokes, he explained.

With new preventative medicine, it’s becoming easier to take those cautionary measures, he says.

Swanson suggests additional methods to help understand and prevent migraines. Keeping a headache diary with each migraine — when it occurred and for how long, and what triggered it — can provide clues to their onset, he said.

Additionally, you can monitor weather changes to help find specific triggers and take migraine medication at the first sign of a migraine. Eating healthy and exercising regularly also can help you keep stress at a minimum and thus help mitigate the number of migraines.

In addition to medicine, Agnew discussed a new iPhone application that helps track weather changes.

Technology like this can be a useful tool in understanding what sets off migraines and allow for a person to take preventative measures to stop them before they occur, Agnew said.

Noozhawk intern Alexa Shapiro can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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