Mass General researchers have developed a forecasting model for predicting future migraine attacks based on current levels of stress and head pain.

If you’ve ever felt the pulsating pain, nausea and blinding light sensitivity that comes with a migraine, you’re not alone. In the US, more than 37 million people get these severe, debilitating headache attacks that can last for several hours at a time.

Tim Houle, PhD
Tim Houle, PhD

If you’ve experienced migraines, you also know that their arrival can be sudden and unpredictable. Potential triggers can include stress, hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep and certain foods, but predicting the exact cause and time of an individual migraine attack has proven difficult.

Because perceived stress has received considerable attention for its association with the onset of headaches, a team of researchers led by Tim Houle, PhD, associate professor of Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, developed a forecasting model for predicting future migraine attacks based on current levels of stress and head pain.

Testing the Migraine Model

To test out the model, the team recruited 95 participants with a history of migraines. Participants were asked to keep a daily diary recording the frequency and intensity of their stress levels and presence/absence of any head pain.

The research team found statistically significant evidence that stress was greater in the days leading up to a reported migraine.

Of the 4,195 days of analyzed diary data, participants experienced a migraine on 1,613 of these days (38.5%). By analyzing participants’ self-reported stress levels, the research team found statistically significant evidence that stress was greater in the days leading up to a reported migraine.

These results provide the first statistically significant evidence that individual headache attacks can be forecasted within an individual sufferer. While more work is needed before the model is ready for clinical use, a system that reliably predicts the onset of migraines could provide much needed relief for chronic migraine sufferers.

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