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When Stormy Weather Gives You a Migraine

Here's what the experts have to say

SATURDAY, Sept. 20, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- An approaching storm may prompt many to reach for an umbrella, but for migraine sufferers, those clouds may mean it's time to reach for a bottle of aspirin.

Storm fronts, and the barometric pressure changes that go along with them, have long been associated with migraine headaches, though it's not clearly understood why. In fact, migraines themselves, though clearly prevalent, are not fully understood by doctors.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, migraine headaches appear to be linked in part to changes in levels of the chemical serotonin in the body. When serotonin levels are high, blood vessels constrict. But when they are low, blood vessels may swell, and that swelling may cause migraine pain.

Some speculate that barometric pressure changes may contribute to the blood vessel swelling and explain why many people report migraines with changes in both weather or altitude.

Some of the telltale signs of migraines include throbbing headaches that often are felt only on one side of the head, accompanying nausea, with or without vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraine sufferers also report a symptom before the pain begins, called an "aura." In such cases, the vision is disturbed by brightly colored or blinking lights that move across the field of vision, according to the American Council for Headache Education.

If you suffer from migraines, you're not alone -- as many as 25 million to 30 million people in the United States experience migraine headaches, according to the council. Fortunately, most say their migraines are alleviated, at least in part, by over-the-counter painkillers.

Still, medical help should be sought under certain conditions, including if you have three or more headaches per week; if you must take a pain reliever every day or almost daily; if you have a stiff neck and/or fever with your headache; or if you also have dizziness, numbness or slurred speech with your headache.

More information

Visit the American Council for Headache Education for more migraine information.

SOURCES: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Council for Headache Education
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