Symptoms, Triggers

Clouds Roll In, Migranie Ratchets Up

Clouds, not barometric pressure or weather changes, seem to make my pain and other migraine symptoms worse. It doesn’t track with conventional wisdom on weather triggers for migraine, but the correlation couldn’t be more obvious for me.

These past two weeks in Seattle have been marvelously illustrative. I’ve felt best on the few totally clear days. More common is a solidly overcast¬† morning sky with clouds that burn off in the early afternoon. I feel worse when there are clouds and better when they clear. Period.

I wake up in the morning and know it is overcast based on how my head feels (I’m sleeping in a basement, so I don’t have the light as an obvious clue). The pain starts to let up and I look outside to discover the clouds are clearing. Within an hour of the clouds clearly completely, I’m back to my baseline pain or just above it and have more energy and less brain fog. The same is true when the morning starts out clear and clouds roll in later in the day.

My mood and food cravings also track with the clouds and my pain levels. I feel generalized depression (rather than sad about a specific event or thought), have free-floating anxiety, and worry more; I also crave sugar and carbs. I’m guessing these are symptoms that kick into gear when the migraine is more severe. They are definitely symptoms I experienced regularly when my migraines were more severe on a daily basis than they’ve been in the last year. While I’m well aware of seasonal affective depression, I understand it to be a longer term phenomenon than just a cloudy few hours.

One day last week did fit the belief that weather and/or pressure changes trigger migraine attacks. A thunderstorm, a rare event for the Seattle-area, brought a level 6 migraine, the worst mine get these days (knock on wood). WeatherSpark tells me there was also a dip in barometric pressure that day. Otherwise, the barometric pressure variations have been minimal and the migraines, while annoying and moderately painful, haven’t been too disruptive.

It seems weird that clouds could have such an impact, but I’ve been practicing listening to my body and tracking very carefully. I have no doubt there’s a correlation for me. Anyone have enough atmospheric science knowledge to speculate a connection? Anyone else experience this seemingly odd phenomenon?

Chronic Migraine, Coping, Triggers

The Everlasting Search to Pinpoint Migraine Triggers

It never fails. I return home from a trip* and a migraine hits within a few hours. As always, there’s the urge to figure out what went wrong, what triggered the migraine. I could blame it on insufficient protein in my breakfast and lunch, restless sleep, not drinking enough water, or the mere fact that I was on an airplane for three hours. Or I could use the commonly cited trigger of stress — the stress of travel, the stress of returning to the demands of normal life, the stress of leaving friends, or the stress release upon being home. (Whether stress is actually a trigger is debatable.)

Practically anything, whether it is positive, negative or neutral, could be a trigger. Eating a particular food? Not eating enough? Eating too much? Inadequate sleep? Excessive sleep? Weather changes? Schedule disruption? Flying? Any of these could be a trigger. This is the trouble with migraine. (Well, actually, there are many troubles with migraine, but this is the one that ignites most of my fruitless worry and unfounded self-flagellation.)

Not only is the field of potential triggers wide open, they are additive. Something might not be a trigger in isolation, but add on a couple more triggers and the attack begins.

What most triggers have in common is that the migraineur can be blamed for causing them to happen. “You have a migraine? Well, if you had taken care of yourself by sleeping/eating/breathing correctly, you wouldn’t have gotten it.” This seems to be the attitude of the general public. And we migraineurs are pretty quick to judge ourselves, too. Of course we don’t want to have migraine attacks and changing our behaviors or diets is one potential way to feel like we have some control over this illness. More importantly, it could reduce the frequency of attacks, which must be a universal goal among migraineurs.

Triggers are absolutely real. But they are also different for everyone. And sometimes you can follow all the rules and still have a migraine attack. That’s the case for me 95% of the time, yet I still have a migraine nearly every day. I feel like I must be doing something wrong, but have no idea what it is.

*I wrote this last week after returning from a wedding in Minneapolis. It devolved into a rant, so I let it sit a while before editing and posting.

Coping, Triggers

What About Weather Triggers Migraine Attacks?

News articles and information sources brush “weather” as a migraine trigger with a maddeningly broad stroke. What, exactly, about weather triggers migraines? “Very high temperature, very low temperature, high humidity, low humidity, and barometric pressure change” are the weather features that trigger attacks, according to Cleveland Clinic headache specialist Dr. Stuart Tepper. Great, even the specifics are annoyingly broad!

The Arizona monsoon season, which produces frequent thunderstorms from July to mid-September, was a big concern when we decided to move back to Phoenix. In my ideal world, I’d spend July and August soaking up the glory of Seattle summers, but that’s not exactly in the budget now that we’ve started our own business. Fortunately, both last summer and this year wonderful people have offered me places to stay, either as a guest or house sitter.

Figuring out where to go based on weather factors is proving quite difficult. Clouds and rain are the most obvious weather markers connected to my migraine attacks, but it seems unlikely that clouds themselves are the trigger. It is more plausible that barometric pressure is at fault, but, even though WeatherSpark provides terrific graphical data, I haven’t been able to correlate attacks with either high or low pressure or changes in pressure. Also, the headache specialist I saw in Boston told me that if barometric pressure were the issue, flying would trigger migraine attacks for me, which it doesn’t.

Do I go to the town with steady barometric pressure but high cloud cover? Or the city that has a short cloud cover each afternoon? What about the place that is windy? I can’t decide. For now, I’ll continue to input cities and towns into WeatherSpark and compare the variables. I’m tempted to wait it out in Phoenix this year so I can see how monsoon season really affects me, if it does at all. At least I wouldn’t have to be apart from my husband for two months that way.

Coping, Triggers

Balancing Caution and Fear of Migraine

“I’m going to be angry if I don’t get a migraine tonight,” I told Hart Friday night. Those are words I never thought I’d say, but I’d been looking forward to that night’s local music festival for months and I didn’t want to have missed it because I’d guessed incorrectly about an impending migraine.

I stayed home because I was feeling “off” and a storm was rolling into town, which is a pretty reliable migraine trigger for me. Usually I’d go anyway, especially if I’d been doing OK most of the day, like I was Friday, but the tickets were expensive and I loathed the thought of fighting through the crowd to leave and then riding in the car for 30 minutes with a migraine.

I’d done the math and the dithering all afternoon and made what I thought was the right decision. When the migraine didn’t come Friday night, I felt like I’d cheated myself out of a great time because of fear. I wanted to embrace my choice with confidence, but the doubt remained: Maybe I was taking care of myself and being appropriately cautious, maybe I missed out by giving into fear.

I’ve been running my mind in circles, trying to figure out how I could have made a better decision Friday (and by “better decision” I mean one that would have gotten me to the music festival). Then Tuesday came along and I felt pretty good, so Hart and I went to a baseball game. At the game I realized that I had used all the available information to make the best decision I could on Friday. There’s no way to make perfect decisions with an unpredictable illness.

Sometimes I’ll got to the show and get a migraine, sometimes I’ll feel just fine. Sometimes I’ll stay home and feel OK, sometimes I’ll have a migraine. Sometimes I’ll go to the game and catch my first foul ball, like I did on Tuesday.

“Like” The Daily Headache on Facebook to see a picture of Hart and me with my foul ball.