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Heatwave: why do we have more migraines and headaches in summer? An expert explains all

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Hollie Richardson
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Migraines in heatwave.

Worried about getting migraines during the heatwave? An expert shares the best advice on how to deal with it.

Headaches and migraines have been the topic of conversation during many of the Stylist team’s morning meetings throughout lockdown. This is thanks to the added stress of the coronavirus pandemic and poor posture while working from home.

Migraines in particular are quite literally the biggest pain in the head for many. Six million people in the UK regularly experience migraines, with 190,000 sufferers experiencing daily attacks. 

The symptoms – an intense headache on one side of the head, feeling sick, sensitivity over sound and light – can be pretty debilitating. In fact, a recent study from My Migraine Voice found 74% of 11,266 participants spend an average of 19 hours in darkness and isolation a month due to migraines. Feelings of helplessness and depression were also experienced by 85% of respondents.

And now, to make things even worse for headache and migraine suffers, we have a heatwave. 

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Temperatures are reaching highs of 31°C this week across the country. While of course it’s a privilege to have so much sunshine in dark times, the heat isn’t very helpful when it comes to trying to get some sleep and keeping migraines at bay. 

If you’re a migraine sufferer, or you’ve started experiencing them in lockdown, Parvinder Sagoo, Clinical Advisor at Simply Meds has shared expert advice on how to cope in the heat. 

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Why do we have more migraines in summer?

Heat increases stress on the body due to the sheer effort of maintaining a safe body temperature. Your heart rate increases and blood vessels move towards the surface of the skin to help heat escape. This results in sweating which draws water away from joints, muscles and the brain.

Decreasing water levels in the body cause dehydration and impact the brain and body. Headaches, tiredness, muscle pain, dizziness, nausea and confusion are common symptoms people suffer in the heat. It is important to drink plenty and keep physical exertion to a minimum. Those who do physical work must ensure they drink regularly and replace the water they are losing.”

Migraine research
Migraine sufferers often feel the pain more in summer.

Heat may trigger migraines more frequently in some sufferers and not in others. Migraine triggers include: stress, hormone changes, food, drinks, sleeping patterns, bright lights and weather changes. It is possible changes in weather pressure cause the onset of a migraine attack.

People manage their migraines by identifying their triggers and avoiding them environmental changes make it more difficult. Life is busier in the summer months and the pressure to have fun takes its toll. It is more likely the lifestyle changes relating to hot weather trigger migraines more than the heat itself.

We sleep less, need to drink more and lose our appetites during heatwaves which are known migraine triggers. The only way to prevent an attack in extreme weather conditions is to take extra care to avoid such triggers.

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How do I treat a migraine in a heatwave?

Treatment involves trial and error until the most effective combination of avoiding triggers and medication works for you. Some people don’t respond to drug treatments at all and avoid triggers through migraine forecasting.

Migraine forecasting involves recording everything you do, eat or drink, experiences and the occurrence of migraines. This helps sufferers to identify a pattern in their condition and make efforts to avoid triggers. There are lots of phone apps to help you to record attacks and possible triggers.  During a heatwave, it is important to avoid triggers, drink plenty and keep cool to avoid an attack.

You should limit your time outside on hot days, try to avoid direct sunlight from midday to about 3pm. If you are heading outside wear a hat which protects your head and neck fully, also wear dark sun glasses. Ensure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you are working or exercising. Exercise indoors in a cool or air-conditioned environment if possible. If you find that you are feeling tired and can feel a migraine coming on, lie down in a cool dark room and place a cold compress on your head such as a flannel and do not go outside in the sun or shade for the rest of the day.

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Symptoms of a heat induced migraine or headache is usually dizziness, muscle cramps or tightening of muscles nausea, extreme thirst or possible fainting. If you are feeling any of these symptoms you should retire inside immediately and lie down in a dark cool room and drink plenty of water. You may also be suffering from heat stroke which is a serious condition and so immediate measures should be taken to ensure your body temperature is regulated.

A few ways to soothe migraines and headaches from home are to place a cold pack or cold flannel onto your forehead to try and reduce the pain, a heating pad or hot compress may also work to reduce any pains. Lavender oil has been known to ease migraine or headache pain, drop a bit of oil on tissue and inhale gently. Ginger has also been known to ease symptoms, try adding some to hot water for a homemade ginger tea or to a cold glass of water.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…