Living at high altitudes leads to more migraines

Many migraine sufferers complain about worsening of their migraines when they travel to high altitudes. But do people who permanently live at high altitudes are more likely to have migraines? A report published in the European Journal of Neurology describes a population-based study done in Nepal in which researchers compared the incidence of migraines in Nepalese living at low and high altitudes. A previous study done in Peru suggested such an association between migraine and living at a high altitude.

2,100 Nepali-speaking adults were recruited into this study. More than half, or 1,100 (52.4%) lived above 1000 meters (3,280 feet) and almost one quarter or 470 (22.4%) lived at 2,000 meters (6,560 feet). The researchers took into account the age and the gender of participants. Migraine prevalence increased from 28% to 46% with altitude between 0 and 2,499 meters and thereafter decreased to 38% at 2,500 meters. The likelihood of having migraines was almost two times greater at all higher altitudes compared with those living below the altitude of 500 meters. In addition, frequency and duration of migraine attacks doubled and pain intensity increased by 50% at higher altitudes.

The authors concluded that “dwelling at high altitudes increases not only migraine prevalence but also the severity of its symptoms”.

Acetazolamide (Diamox) can be an effective drug for the prevention of headaches at high altitudes and with barometric pressure drops. Unfortunately, we do not know if taking this medicine long-term is also effective for the prevention of headaches in people living at high altitudes.

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