Can weather changes trigger migraine attacks? Learn how weather triggers may affect migraine symptoms and what you can do to minimize the impact of weather changes.
Thank you to Werner Becker, MD, FAHS: Caitlin Holtby, MD, MSc; and Fabio Nascimento, MD for their contributions to this spotlight!
It’s a question many people living with migraine have probably asked or been asked at some point: Do weather changes trigger migraine attacks? Many people living with migraine think they do, but like most discussions of migraine triggers, the truth is probably a bit more complicated.
Surprisingly, researchers haven’t been able to show a clear link between weather patterns and migraine, and many studies have shown mixed results. For example, while some studies have shown that weather changes can be a trigger for some people with migraine, other studies have been inconclusive. A recent 2023 study of over 15,000 physician-diagnosed migraine individuals in Japan found that low barometric pressure, barometric pressure changes, higher humidity and rainfall were associated with an increased number of headache occurrences.
Can changing weather be a migraine trigger?
It’s difficult to prove that particular weather patterns trigger migraine attacks. A migraine trigger is any factor that temporarily increases the chances that a person will experience a migraine attack. People typically have a number of different migraine triggers, so even if seasonal weather changes are one of them, it’s possible for the majority of their attacks to be linked to other triggers. Science is also teaching us that a trigger may not be the cause of a migraine attack, but vulnerability to a weather change or a poor night’s sleep might be part of the migraine prodromal phase.
Additionally, a single trigger—like a specific change in the weather—may not be enough to prompt a migraine attack by itself. In some cases, weather changes may only trigger a migraine attack in combination with other triggers, such as a meal containing monosodium glutamate or a glass of red wine. As with many common migraine triggers, changing weather patterns may only be able to trigger symptoms if a person is already prone to an attack due to fatigue, stress or lack of sleep. Therefore, it may be hard to identify a clear, consistent relationship between a certain weather pattern and the onset of migraine attacks.
How many people with migraine are weather sensitive?
Among all of those with migraine, just over one-third feel that certain weather patterns trigger at least some of their attacks. In people with more severe migraine—that is, patients who are attending a headache clinic—one study found that just over half felt that weather triggered some of their migraine attacks, while about 10% felt that weather patterns triggered at least two-thirds of their attacks.
Additionally, among those who are weather sensitive, the specific patterns and weather changes that act as triggers will vary from person to person. However, even if researchers have had a hard time proving consistent links between weather changes and migraine attacks, no one knows your migraine symptoms as well as you do—if you feel you are a “human barometer,” you may be right.
What kinds of weather changes may trigger migraine attacks?
Each person has their own unique set of migraine triggers, which may include stress, certain foods, alcohol and other factors. In the same way, different weather changes may act as migraine triggers for different people.
Some commonly reported weather-specific migraine triggers include:
- Temperature and humidity – An American study found that some people with migraine appear to be sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Another study found that higher temperatures corresponded with an increased number of people with migraine going to the emergency department with headache.
- Pressure changes – Barometric pressure may be another factor in weather changes triggering migraine attacks. One study looked at whether falling barometric pressure seemed to trigger headaches during a period when a typhoon hit Japan. It found that 75% of people with migraine reported attacks associated with the drop in barometric pressure, while only 20% of people with tension-type headache experienced an attack during the same period.
- Sunlight exposure – The amount of daily sunlight a person is exposed to may also be a factor. A Norwegian study found exposure to more than three hours of sunlight per day increased the likelihood of a migraine attack, and another study found that migraine attacks were more likely during long summer days in the Arctic region.
While study results vary, it does seem clear that different people tend to have different weather-related migraine triggers. A study on the Chinook winds—a powerful weather system in western Canada—demonstrates the degree of difference with which people with migraine may respond to the same weather changes.
Researchers found that some people with migraine were more sensitive to attacks the day before the Chinook winds started, at a time when barometric pressure was falling. Others were more likely to experience migraine symptoms the next day when the wind was blowing, although this increased risk was only present if the wind was especially strong. Even though both groups were sensitive to the same weather pattern, their migraine symptoms seemed to be triggered by different specific climate features and daily weather changes.
What can you do to prevent and treat weather-related migraine symptoms?
Although some migraine attack triggers—like red wine—can be avoided, there is increasing evidence that triggers may be part of a migraine prodrome and beyond an individual’s control. But either way, there is no avoiding the weather. While moving somewhere with more stable weather patterns may help people with well documented weather sensitivities, this is not an option for many people. Additionally, there are no guarantees this will work, as people all over the world seem to feel at least some of their attacks are triggered by certain weather patterns.
People with migraine and weather sensitivity can work to avoid or manage the other triggers within their control when a weather system they are sensitive to comes along. For example, maintain a regular sleep schedule and get adequate rest, don’t skip meals, stay hydrated and avoid any food triggers.
Weather-related migraine symptoms are treated with the same medications used to treat any attacks. This may include common acute migraine treatments like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, triptans and gepants. Your doctor may also recommend oral or injectable preventive medications to help you manage your migraine symptoms and minimize the likelihood of attacks triggered by weather changes.
There are no FDA-approved treatments for the prevention of weather-related migraine attacks. If a particularly powerful weather system to which you are sensitive is moving in, you can try taking a medication in advance. However, using acute medications too frequently can lead to medication overuse headache and cause your symptoms to become worse in the long run. Always keep a record of any medications you’ve taken and discuss these treatments with your doctor to minimize the chance of medication overuse headache.
The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.