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October 19, 2007 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Help a migraine sufferer! My girlfriend’s migraines are apparently set off by storm systems and their associated low-pressure fronts. Does anyone have experience with this?

She and I are fairly certain that her migraines are in some way shape or form associated with storms. She can generally feel them coming in directly before the sky changes and will come down with debilitating headaches during 4/5 storms.

1) Any way to detect pressure changes in advance? Perhaps some sort of meteorological computer alert?
2) Is there anywhere, besides the desert that doesn’t have low pressure? We're considering moving, and escaping her migraines would be great.
posted by willie11 to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Low pressure is associated with "bad" weather; watching the weather predictions should help.

I read about this medieval headache remedy and have applied it to myself with some success: a tight cloth band around the head. I actually made myself a very tight headband from some strong knit material, and put it around my cranium when I get "that kind" of headache. Sometimes I put wadded-up socks between my head and the band to make it extra tight. Seems to help some. Looks ridiculous, but I don't care. It feels great.
posted by amtho at 1:34 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine was having horrible migraines that completely knocked the stuffing out of him. Come to find out, they were being caused by an ancient sinus infection that had managed to do some nerve damage. He had some surgery and is now recovering. Maybe she should try getting checked out for some sinus infection therapy before your move. Your sinuses can be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure.

Would a steam help with the pain? When I get a headache caused by a change in barometric pressure, I find a hot shower helps but, then again, I don't have anything as serious as your girlfriend's migraines.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:49 PM on October 19, 2007

I don't know if your gf has seen a doctor about the headaches, but if pressure changes seem to be triggering the headaches, seems possible she might have a low-grade problem with her sinuses being inflamed / infected so that the pressure doesn't equalize via channels that are clogged. Treating that might offer a long-term solution (one can hope). Good luck.
posted by aught at 1:49 PM on October 19, 2007

It's quite common. Low pressure sets off my own migraines too.

I am not aware of an effective technique to cause low pressure systems to go away. If your GF needs help combating migraines, a doc is a good way to start.

Places with generally hot or good weather, as you note, don't seem to set me off so much.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:55 PM on October 19, 2007

Also, in general, the more advance warning one has about an impending migraine, the easier it is to use an abortive medicine to stop them. But this is best discussed with a doc.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:56 PM on October 19, 2007

Best answer: My migraines are definitely affected by sudden low-pressure drops and storm systems . . . her "storm" migraine symptoms are just exactly what mine were. It took me years to solve my migraine problem. Though Imitrex helped at times, it only did so if I took it at the very start of a migraine, which is difficult to know (often) until it's too late. But I went from having a migraine a week (even as a child) to having maybe two a year. How I did it was by gradually learning that migraines are usually not caused by any one thing in particular, but by a combination of factors. I think that's why they're so hard to predict and to "cure."

My migraines were caused when at least a couple of the following were present at the same time, as best as I can tell. I carefully avoid the intermingling of these factors and I rarely have a migraine now:

1) Stress. It's particularly bad when combined with . . .

2) Lack of proper sleep. For me, that's usually more than eight hours a night . . . it's just the way I am.

3) Food allergies. Neary everyone has some pesky allergy they may not even know about. My bad one is cinnamon. When I eat Indian food, my migraine risk goes way up in the following days. (Sadly. I love Indian food!)

4) "Bad" foods. Certain foods are known to factor into migraines (for many migraine sufferers, apparently, not just me.) Strong cheeses, legumes, nuts, seeds, chocolates are among the worst offenders, apparently.

5) Caffeine dependency. Caffeine addiction can be rough, but sudden withdrawal for a migraine sufferer is often a trigger.

6) Blood sugar. Migraine sufferers need to be more careful about wildly swinging blood sugar levels than other folks.

7) Storms and low pressure, as above.

8) Heavy smells and chemical nastiness. Those sheets people put in the dryer, perfumes, air fresheners . . . instant migraine-inducers for me with only one of the above factors also in play.

Any of these things alone isn't enough to give me a migraine, I've found. But three or more at once almost always will give me one. I make sure I get sleep and do what I need to do to avoid personal stress ("atmospheric stress" doesn't seem to affect me, just self-induced stress.) I don't eat Indian food unless I'm cool with all the other factors. Similarly, I avoid the "bad" migraine foods unless everything else is cool, though to be honest, this is probably the weakest of factors for me personally. I've managed to cut out caffeine entirely, which was very hard! I eat pretty well - not a lot of processed foods with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which has helped a lot. Much of the year storms and low-pressure isn't a problem, but spring and part of autumn is always rough.

Interestingly, I figured out most of these by myself, but have since done research and learned that they are all very common factors in migraines for many sufferers. I suffered the "if I only had a gun, I would shoot myself" form of highly-sensitive to light and sound form of migraine, but I feel pretty good about saying that they're mostly in the past now. I hope your girlfriend can say the same very soon.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:02 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Everything Dee Xtrovert said is true for me, too, right down to the Indian food. That's really weird.

I watch my diet, avoid chocolate entirely, and keep the stress down as best as I can. Strangely, despite trying various meds, including immitrex and Midrin, the thing that really works for me is ibuprophen. About 800mg (four pills) right as you feel it coming on, or the storm's a comin,' and it's gone. For me, anyway.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:08 PM on October 19, 2007

I second the ibuprofen for this. I have a shoulder I injured a few years ago, and some storms--particularly those that occur after long periods of high pressure--cause it to ache, followed by an awful headache that I can feel throughout my whole head. (Yes, I know I probably have a damaged nerve). The last time this happened I swiped a prescription 800 mg ibuprofen from my girlfriend and it actually *went away*. I don't normally take ibuprofen for anything, so that may have been a factor.
posted by Benjy at 2:13 PM on October 19, 2007

Best answer: I saw a neurologist a few years ago after suffering from migraines for almost 20 years. Weather systems were definitely one of my triggers too, along with hormones and stress and some food additives.

One of the most important things the doctor did was to help me realize the importance of medicating the headache early. She called it the "Uh-Oh Feeling," and migraineurs know what I'm talking about. It's "Oh, shit, I'm probably going to have a headache in an hour." Do not ignore the Uh-Oh. Take whatever medicine works for you* at that very moment. (FWIW, I take Anaprox with mild symptoms and Relpax for more severe, as well as Atenolol as a preventative.)

The other thing she told me was not to worry about overmedicating myself. I often held back on taking a second pill even when the first didn't work, but she assured me that I shouldn't be concerned about that.

I went from having dozens of migraines a month to having only the occasional mild headache that I can knock out with a pill or two. It has changed my life.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:19 PM on October 19, 2007

Keep in mind that a pressure change of about 0.40 in Hg as a typical storm system approaches is the same change as driving up and down 400 ft hills. There's really no other effect at play here. Does driving up and down hills give her problems? If not you may want to look at perhaps allergens from, say, forested areas or weedy fields with the wind regimes that precede storms.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:22 PM on October 19, 2007

"1) Any way to detect pressure changes in advance? Perhaps some sort of meteorological computer alert?

There's always the isobar weather maps. Closer lines mean a greater difference in pressure over a shorter distance.

2) Is there anywhere, besides the desert that doesn’t have low pressure? We're considering moving, and escaping her migraines would be great.

Low pressure fronts are common over the entire world. They occur because of uneven heating of the earth's surface by the sun. Moving to a desert won't help you escape from them.
posted by 517 at 2:31 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

The atmosphere definitely affects me as well. Relpax has helped me. I asked my doc for some samples to try out. Now that she's out of Relpax samples, I'm trying Imitrex samples. Do ask about samples if you can't afford the prescriptions.

Also, I read a recent study (can't remember where, sorry!) that said pain relievers, even Tylenol, can be more effective when taken with caffeine. Try swallowing your painkillers with a bit of pop or coffee, if they won't make you vomit (I vomit with migraines sometimes.)
posted by IndigoRain at 2:48 PM on October 19, 2007

As Sweetie Darling says, medicating early and often with the appropriate pills is the key to co-existing with migraines. Be very careful with NSAIDS (ibuprofen, excederin etc ) as they can trigger rebound headaches.
posted by fshgrl at 2:51 PM on October 19, 2007

I got a barometer to help me know when the pressure was changing. I find, however, that I'm often more sensitive than the barometer and the migraine outpaces the pointer. Still, it's better than nothing. I keep close track of forecasts too.

I take butterbur extract twice daily for migraines. Sometimes taking another as the "Uh-oh Feeling" hits (thank you for that, Sweetie Darling) helps ward off the pain, or keeps it down to a dull roar. I'll second Indigo Rain on the pop or coffee; some OTC pain relievers are formulated with caffeine but an extra shot shouldn't hurt and might help.
posted by bryon at 3:22 PM on October 19, 2007

Best answer: Yep, I've got almost the identical thing going on as Dee Extrovert.

One thing your GF might want to do is to take note of what she's been doing, eating, her sleep history, where she is in her AF cycle, etc. to see if she can find any sort of trigger. It took me a while to realise that it was the storms and Girlie Issues that tend to do it for me. I also found a pattern where I'd kind of see strobe lights when I closed my eyes, and sounds seemed louder than usual. I'd also start having subtle nausea if I smelled anything strong. It could be something as stupid as toothpaste or air freshener. This would all *precede* headaches by about six hours. Knowing that, though, gives me (and the family) advance warning that, say, kiddos can't have microwave popcorn around because the smell will set me into a wicked tailspin for hours on end. VERY hard to explain to a 4yo, trust me.

I tried Imitrex for a while, but it didn't do much, and it came with some really icky side effects. It just made me feel, well, hung over most of the time. And without any of the fun benefits of the night before. ;)

My current protocol for headaches is the Topamax daily. At the VERY FIRST sign of an impending migraine (your girlfriend will have to get really in tune with those), I take 800mg of Ibuprofen (depending on your insurance, sometimes it's much cheaper to get a script for it than it is to buy it OTC, btw). If the Ibuprofen doesn't start to work within about 15 minutes, I take Maxalt (which is this melty stuff that you just stick on your tongue - think super wicked strong melty Altoid). Usually that does the trick.

The only difference is, I've found that taking Topamax as a daily preventative has helped *tremendously*. Like we're talking going from 10-12 headaches a month down to maybe, oh, 1-2. Sometimes those headaches would go for three or four days STRAIGHT. The longest was bastard of six days long. When you have two kids and three dogs, let me tell you, you are willing to do just about anything to make your head stop hurting at that point. Life was most unpleasant for everybody in this household, to say the least.

Topamax isn't a cheap drug, unfortunately. Though the good news is that it's going generic in December '07.

I hope your GF feels better soon. I've so been there and it sucks big time.

Oh, IANAD, etc., etc., etc.
posted by dancinglamb at 4:23 PM on October 19, 2007

I don't get migraines, but I do get headaches from pressure changes. For me, sudafed is the key to getting rid of these headaches. Just one little red pill is usually enough.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:52 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

If they really are migraines, I'd not spend too much time trying tylenol, ibuprofen, or sudafed. The only migraines I've never known to be effectively dealt with by those were just the 'bad headaches' had by well-meaning people who've never met the real deal face (head?) to face.

My migraines are triggered by weather changes, too, in combination with stress and irregular sleep.

I've tried a number of prescription preventative and abortive drugs, and the combo I'm taking now works quite well. The migraines have gone from twice-weekly (at worst) to one every couple months, so... there's hope.
posted by onshi at 7:10 PM on October 19, 2007

Best answer: I think it may very well be the low pressure which is causing the migraine.

In the first place, the brain contains a small amount of fluid under pressure: the Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The CSF functions as a mechanical support for the brain and cushions it. Normal CSF pressure is 5-15mm Hg over atmospheric pressure, which is 760 mm Hg at sea level.

If the pressure drop of a low is .4 in. Hg, as Rolypolyman suggests (I didn't find confirmation of this number), that's ~10mm Hg, or 67-200% of the normal CSF pressure, and therefore it can be seen as essentially equivalent to approximately a doubling or tripling of CSF pressure.

There is some evidence an increase in CSF pressure can trigger migraines. According to a 2005 study, titled Migraine, a result of increased CSF pressure: A new pathophysiological concept (preliminary report):

Clinical and neuroradiological evaluation of 40 adult patients, suffering from migraine-type headache, produced evidence of a relationship between migraine, increased CSF pressure in the posterior fossa and cerebellar herniation. These findings have led to an alternative pathophysiological concept of migraine. A disturbance of CSF circulation is thought to be the underlying factor, which causes increased pressure in the basal cisterns and posterior fossa. This results in headache, acquired cerebellar herniation and, in severe cases, spasm of the vertebral arteries with subsequent cerebral ischemia. There seems to be no essential difference in pathophysiology between common and classic migraine.

Now if low pressure systems do trigger migraines by this mechanism, is there anything your girlfriend can do about it?

There may be; she may be able to get some relief by using marijuana.

As I mentioned in a previous answer, there are anecdotal accounts which suggest that marijuana can reduce high CSF pressure. For the purposes of the present answer, I took one more look at this, and it occurred to me that if marijuana does have some effect on CSF pressure, perhaps there would be cannabinoid receptors in the choroid plexus, which is the source of the CSF in the brain, and so there are, at least in rats:

Cannabinoids may then act directly on choroid plexus cells, and thereby contribute to the regulation of the composition of the CSF.

Also, at least one respected researcher has made a number of proposals to study marijuana as a treatment for migraine-- but all of them have been turned down by the federal government as far as I can tell.
posted by jamjam at 7:23 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have had some luck with Sinus Buster, which is basically a hot pepper nasal spray.

It has helped with a couple of really bad headaches, although I do not suffer from migraines.

FWIW, I bought it as an alternative to coffee. I didn't really buy into the headache thing until I tried it.

It is uncomfortable for a few seconds, but it doesn't have that lasting OH MY GOD IT BURNS! feeling that you think it would.

It has the added bonus of really clearing up your sinuses.
posted by bh at 3:14 AM on October 20, 2007

Changes in barometric pressure are the number one trigger for my migraines. I'm 40 now and have had them since I was 8. Also, I've lived in Northern CA, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, France and Africa and it's been the same everywhere.

Second trigger is weird light things, like strobe lights, looking at someone sitting against a window, esp. if they are sitting in front of venetian blinds, fireworks, etc.

Thank you, jamjam, for bringing up the marijuana option: smoking pot, preferably out of a bong, is the only thing that will consistently knock out one of my migraines. I've tried all the prescription drugs, and while they may temporarily help with pain relief, I often get rebound headaches the next day.

Good luck to your GF.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:49 AM on October 20, 2007

I absolutely believe there could be some relation to storms and her migraines. Probably the worst migraine I have ever experienced was during a hurricane. Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 came right over my house. That migraine had me praying for death. Unfortunately I was out of my prescription medicine, Amerge, and of course no pharmacies were open; there was no electricity for a couple days. Not fun! I will never be without my migraine medicine again if there is even a hint of a potential hurricane threat.
posted by momzilla at 3:40 PM on October 20, 2007

I have the opposite reaction with the marijuana during a migraine, so be careful. Any smoke sends me off the deep end.

Good luck.
posted by deathofme at 9:10 PM on October 20, 2007

Wikipedia suggests using the valsalva maneuver for weather/pressure triggered migraines.
posted by brevator at 9:07 PM on February 2, 2008

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