From the Journal – New Research on Forecasting Migraine Attacks Has The Headache Community Talking

Highlights from the July/August issue of Headache

New findings from research published in the July/August issue of Headache could pave the way for a prediction model that lets patients and healthcare providers anticipate when a migraine attack is more likely to strike—and, in turn, take action to reduce their frequency by avoiding exposure to a single, newly-identified trigger.

The study, titled “Forecasting individual headache attacks: development of a multivariable prediction model for persons with episodic migraine” and conducted by Dr. Tim Houle and his colleagues, suggests a possible causative connection between stress and migraine that shows promise: not just in aiding in the prediction of attacks, but also in the development of new preventative treatments for chronic sufferers.

Headache physicians have long recommended patients avoid a multitude of known and suspected triggers—from alcohol to cheese to sexual activity, international travel and perfume—to reduce the number and intensity of their migraine attacks. However, since suspected triggers can vary widely, patients are left to experiment by trial and error, removing and reintroducing behaviors from their daily lives while continuing to experience migraine attacks in the hopes of uncovering patterns that seem to correspond with a reduction in headache pain frequency and intensity.

Houle’s work focused specifically on stress, and examined its role as a precipitating factor in a longitudinal study following 95 people with migraine over a total of 4,195 days, during which time each recorded their stress and headache experiences into diaries that provided the data for Houle’s analysis.

The participants experienced a migraine on 1,613 of these days (or 38.5%). The team designed a model that collated data regarding the frequency of stressful events and their perceived intensity alongside participants’ reported headache experiences to inform their findings.

Across the entire study, participants reported low to moderate stress. However, stress was more likely to be greater in the days leading up to a headache.

Houle’s findings have generated significant buzz within and beyond the medical community: with recent press coverage speculating that it could pave the way for a framework to predict migraine attacks that could be applied to a wider population of sufferers more broadly, as well as providing a framework for more targeted treatment research focused specifically on stress.

Dr. Houle told Medical News Today that he and his team are eager to carry out more work to refine their model, which he called “a very good start to helping people forecast the chances they will experience a headache attack, but work is needed to make the prediction models more accurate before they will be of widespread clinical use.”

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