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Health - Reuters - updated 10:39 AM ET Sep 11
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Tuesday September 11 10:39 AM ET Headache - Atmospheric Radiation Link Explored

Headache - Atmospheric Radiation Link Explored

By Karla Gale

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Researchers in Germany propose that a small minority of headache patients are susceptible to atmospheric electromagnetic pulses.

The pulses, called ``sferics,'' are of very short duration and low intensity and frequency. According to a team led by Dr. Harald Walach, of Uniklinikum Freiburg Institut fur Umweltmedizin und Krankenhaushygiene in Freiburg, sferics are generated by electric discharges, such as lightning, during meteorological events.

In their study, 21 patients with migraine and/or tension headaches completed daily diaries, noting occurrence, intensity and duration of headaches. In the journal Cephalalgia, Walach's group presents the diary information along with data collected by a sferics measurement station at the University of Munich. They estimated the sum and the average of sferics impulses during 24-hour cycles.

One person's headaches and headache duration showed significant correlation with the amplitude and number of sferics. The pattern was consistent, with sferics and headaches occurring ``fairly simultaneously,'' Walach and his associates write. Since 1 out of 21 of their patients showed this sensitivity, they conclude that about 5% of headache patients may be susceptible to the effect of sferics.

Dr. Frederick G. Freitag, of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, Illinois, spoke with Reuters Health about these findings.

``We've known for a long time that a variety of weather conditions play a role in different people,'' he said. ``So when someone says, 'I know when a storm is coming,' they're right, they can predict the weather.

``But if you take migraine headache sufferers as a whole, there are no specific things that affect the group,'' he observed. Regarding electromagnetic radiation or sferics, he added, ``People shouldn't jump to any conclusions.''

Freitag pointed out that the data presented by Walach's group showed very poor consistency even among patients whose headaches were linked to higher sferics measurements.

``I was rather surprised to see such a report in Cephalalgia, but on the other hand, this was a fairly well done, scientific approach,'' he commented. ``They did good science, took a fair look at the issue, but ended up with negative results. And the scientific community needs to know negative results as well as those that are more positive.''

SOURCE: Cephalalgia 2001;21:685-690.

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