Can Lightning Cause Headaches?

Migraines can be triggered by lightning study claims

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Migraine sufferers may tell you that bad weather can trigger their headache. But how much of a role does weather actually play in migraines and what effect do particular events like lightning have on these headaches?

A recent study examined the effect of lightning on migraines. Results showed that lightning may affect the onset of headaches and migraines. Study participants experienced a 31 percent increased risk of headache and 28 percent increased risk of migraine when lightning struck within a 25 mile radius of their home.

"Ask your doctor how you can better control migraines."

Geoffrey Martin, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Cincinnati, and colleagues studied two past trials of 100 people who regularly had migraines. Twenty-three of the study participants resided in the Cincinnati area and 67 lived in the St. Louis area.

The study participants kept a diary of any headache and related symptoms for three to six months. These symptoms included severity of headache, nausea, vomiting, light reactions and sound reactions.

Records of all lightning strikes that reached the ground for the Cincinnati and St. Louis areas were collected. The records included location, lightning current and whether that current was negatively or positively charged.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers determined if the headaches were caused by the lightning itself or other aspects of the weather.

In past studies, high barometric pressure has been reported as increasing the likelihood of a headache. Other studies have identified high temperature and humidity as headache triggers.

Thunderstorms are a combination of many different weather conditions, including temperature, humidity and pressure.

Lightning has been suspected to be an influence on human health because of its electromagnetic properties and because it accompanies thunderstorms.

When adjustments were made for other weather conditions, a 19 percent increased risk of headache was attributed to lightning alone. Negatively charged lightning currents were linked to a higher risk of headache than positively charged currents.

What caused the increased risk is not known. The study authors speculate that the headaches could be triggered by the electromagnetic waves that come from the lightning or an increase in air pollutants that can release fungal spores.

The study was published in the journal Cephalalgia.

Funding for the study was provided by GlaxoSmithKline.

The study authors collectively reported over a half dozen associations with pharmaceutical companies.

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Review Date: 
February 7, 2013
Last Updated:
August 19, 2013