Predicting Migraine Attacks: Insights from New Study

A new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, has revealed how to more accurately predict when a migraine attack will occur by using mobile apps to track sleep, energy, emotions and stress. The study found that poor sleep quality and low energy levels were associated with an increased risk of morning headaches, while high stress and energy levels were linked to afternoon or evening headaches. The findings may help improve the prevention and treatment of migraines.

Sleep Quality and Energy Levels Predict Morning Headaches

Migraines are a common and disabling neurological disorder that affects about 15% of the population. They are often underdiagnosed and undertreated, and even when they are treated, it can be difficult to treat them early enough or find strategies to prevent them. Therefore, being able to predict when a migraine attack will occur can be very helpful for people who suffer from them.

The study involved 477 people aged 7 to 84, including 291 female participants, who had a history of migraine or reported at least one headache during the study period. They used a mobile app to rate their mood, energy, stress and headaches four times a day for two weeks. They also rated their sleep quality once a day and wore sleep and physical activity monitors.

The study team found that sleep quality and energy levels were important indicators of a migraine attack on the following day . Those who had bad sleep quality and low energy one day were more likely to have migraines the next morning, the data showed. A 22% increase in the risk of morning headache was associated with poor perceived sleep quality on average, while an 18% increase was linked to a lower than usual quality of sleep on the prior night. A 16% increase in the risk of morning headache was also related to a lower than usual level of energy on the prior day.

Stress and Energy Levels Predict Afternoon or Evening Headaches

The study also found that stress and energy levels were associated with afternoon or evening headaches. Those who had higher than average stress or energy levels one day were more likely to have headaches later in the day on the following day. A 17% increase in the risk of afternoon or evening headache was related to greater average levels of stress or substantially higher energy than usual the day before.

The researchers noted that these different patterns of predictors of morning and later-day headaches highlight the role of the circadian rhythms in headache. The findings may give us insight into the processes underlying migraine and help us improve treatment and prevention.

Implications for Migraine Prevention and Treatment

The study author Kathleen R. Merikangas, PhD, of the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, said that the study shows that using mobile apps to monitor behaviors and symptoms can help identify factors that trigger or predict migraine attacks. She added that this information can be used to tailor personalized interventions for migraine prevention and treatment.

For example, people who are prone to morning headaches may benefit from improving their sleep hygiene and avoiding caffeine or alcohol before bedtime. People who are at risk of afternoon or evening headaches may benefit from reducing their stress levels and avoiding overstimulation during the day. Moreover, people who experience migraines may benefit from taking preventive medications or non-pharmacological therapies at optimal times based on their individual patterns of headache predictors.

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