Migraines are getting worse, and experts cite climate change as why

People who suffer from this dibilitating disease are having episodes more often and at higher intensities nationwide

Throbbing pain, searing light, vomiting — a migraine is no laughing matter. The neurological disease affects more than 39 million Americans, and climate change might be making it worse.

“While the burden initially increased more significantly among women and has since stabilized, the rate of burden in men has continued to escalate,” lead author Dr. Fred Cohen, assistant professor of medicine and neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, told NBC News.

According to a recent study in the journal Headache, migraines are nearly twice as debilitating today as they were in 2004.

In the early May report, researchers analyzed 11 episodic and chronic migraine studies of U.S. adults from 1989 to 2018. The results revealed sufferers are not only having more debilitating migraines than they were in decades passed, but also more frequent ones.

“Additionally, our research indicates that the average monthly frequency of headaches has risen over the past 20 years,” Cohen said.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes reported migraines are caused by the activation of nerve fibers within the walls of certain brain blood vessels. The neurological disease can last up to 72 hours and cause sensitivity to light, noise and odors. There are also other factors that can increase a person’s risk of suffering a migraine, including lack of sleep and sudden changes in the weather.

“As extreme weather events, like hurricanes, become more frequent and intense, they could be contributing to an increase in migraine attacks and their severity,” Dr. Timothy A. Collins, chief of the headache division in the department of neurology at Duke University Medical Center, told NBC News.

Because of increased emissions of greenhouse gases, climate change remains a major hurdle for the world. According to NASA, the global sea level has risen 8 inches since 1880 and could rise anywhere from 1 foot to more than feet by 2100. Hurricanes, droughts and heat waves will continue to escalate in intensity, NASA continued, and global temperatures continue to rise, with 2023 having the hottest summer on record.

“Worsening climate conditions (including rising temperatures, extreme weather patterns, and escalating pollution) are likely to lead to effects of two types: heightened attack frequency in people who already have migraine, and an upsurge in the overall occurrence of migraine,” researchers with the University College London wrote to NBC News.

According to the study recently published in Headache, however, the issue merits further investigation.