Migraine Patients Report Worsening Symptoms with Heat, Monsoon

A Barrow Neurological Institute expert is offering tips for migraine sufferers who report increased symptoms as temperatures rise in the Valley and monsoon storms occur.

Monsoons bring much-needed rain to the desert. But those thunderheads may cause disabling headaches, vertigo, and nausea for migraine sufferers.

While studies have conflicted about whether monsoon conditions trigger migraine, many patients attribute worsening symptoms to the atmospheric pressure drops that are common during Arizona’s monsoon season, says Jennifer Robblee, MD, a headache specialist at Phoenix’s Barrow Neurological Institute, which is part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.

“Whether it is the scorching desert heat or the monsoon storms, many patients perceive it to be a factor in their migraine disease,” Dr. Robblee says. “We can’t change the weather, but it helps to be prepared for the possible impacts on patients’ health.”

Jennifer Robblee, MD
Jennifer Robblee, MD

Barrow offers a range of treatments and therapies for migraine patients. “Some of them are preventive, and some of them are rescue,” Dr. Robblee says.

Some of the new preventive and rescue treatments disable a protein involved in migraine. Another new medication category, ditans, works like triptans, a proven migraine medication, but is safe for patients with a history of heart disease or high blood pressure. Dr. Robblee has also prescribed the use of Relivion MG, a wearable device that uses electrodes to stimulate two major nerve pathways in the forehead and back of the head. 

Migraine is a disabling neurological disease that affects 39 million Americans, according to the American Migraine Foundation. Migraines are the second leading cause of disability worldwide and are responsible for significant reduction in the quality of life and loss of productivity across the globe.
Severe headaches are commonly associated with migraine, but other symptoms include sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, vertigo, neck pain, and brain fog. Migraine can also cause aura, which can present like a stroke

“When people ask what a migraine feels like, I say, ‘Imagine you had a really bad hangover, but you didn’t drink.’ Some patients feel that way every single day,” Dr. Robblee says.

For many migraine sufferers in Arizona, symptoms worsen as temperatures soar in the desert and monsoon storms come.

North Phoenix resident Nicole Ferschke says migraines during monsoon season may cause her to miss work or force her to go home early.

“If I’m driving in to work and I see a few scattered clouds, I will start to feel the changes before they become thunderheads,” says Ferschke, an assistant clinical professor of physician assistant studies at Northern Arizona University’s campus in downtown Phoenix. “I can predict that there’s going to be thunderheads.”

There’s probably a lot of people who have migraine who feel like they don’t get taken seriously, and that’s unfortunate. In the eight years that I have been going to Barrow, they have definitely improved my quality of life.

Nicole Ferschke, Barrow Patient

Because monsoon storms typically fire late in the afternoon and early evening, Ferschke sometimes leaves work early so she can drive home safely.

Ferschke says that she sometimes experiences migraine auras, which include changes in vision and flashing lights. This year, Ferschke spent five days in the hospital in June for a “reset” therapy that included a continuous infusion of ketamine, which she says lessens the frequency of migraines.

“Obviously, you can’t do anything about the weather,” the 44-year-old Ferschke says. “I’ve been dealing with this for 20-plus years, and I try to be proactive. But there are days, especially in the summer, when I really feel it.”

Ferschke urged chronic migraine sufferers to seek treatment at the Lewis Headache Center at Barrow.

“There’s probably a lot of people who have migraine who feel like they don’t get taken seriously, and that’s unfortunate,” she says. “In the eight years that I have been going to Barrow, they have definitely improved my quality of life.”

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KJZZ: Some migraine sufferers report increase in symptoms during monsoon