Migraine sufferers know that a variety of influences—everything from stress to hunger to a shift in the weather—can trigger a dreaded headache. A new study published in the journal Cephalalgia, though, suggests that another migraine trigger could be an unexpected atmospheric condition—a bolt of lightning.
As part of the study, Geoffrey Martin of the University of Cincinnati and colleagues from elsewhere asked 90 chronic migraine sufferers in Ohio and Missouri to keep detailed daily diaries documenting when they experienced headaches for three to six months. Afterward, they looked back over this period and analyzed how well the occurrence of headaches correlated with lightning strikes within 25 miles of the participants’ houses, along with other weather factors such as temperature and barometric pressure.
Their analysis found that there was a 28 precent increased chance of a migraine and a 31 precent chance of a non-migraine (i.e. less severe) headache on days when lightning struck nearby. Since lightning usually occurs during thunderstorms, which bring a host of other weather events—notable changes in barometric pressure—they used mathematical models to parse the related factors and found that even in the absence of other thunderstorm-related elements, lightning alone caused a 19 percent increased chance of headaches.
Despite these results, it’s probably a bit premature to argue that lightning is a definitive trigger of migraines. For one, a number of previous studies have explored the links between weather and migraine headaches, and the results have been unclear. Some have suggested that high pressure increases the risk of headaches, while others have indicated that low pressure increases the risk as well. Other previous studies, in fact, have failed to find a link between migraines and lightening, in particular.