Climate Change is Making Migraines and Other Neurological Diseases Worse

by Staff Writer
November 17, 2022 at 11:14 AM UTC

Climate changes is associated with a greater incidence and severity of neurological diseases.

Clinical Relevance: Climate change is increasing the incidence and severity of many neurological diseases

  • The climate crisis is associated with stroke incidence and severity, migraine headaches, hospitalization in dementia patients, and worsening of MS.
  • Emerging neuroinfectious diseases like West Nile virus, meningococcal meningitis and tick-borne encephalitis are expanding their geographical reach.
  • As climate changes worsens, it is essential to study and address its impact on neurological conditions.

As the earth warms and the climate crisis deepens, migraine headaches are getting worse. The symptoms of other neurological diseases such as dementia, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are also intensifying. Stroke may become more prevalent as well, warned a stark new report in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

“As we witness the effects of a warming planet on human health, it is imperative that neurologists anticipate how neurologic disease may change.” said the Cleveland Clinic’s Andrew Dhawan, MD, DPhil, in a press release. Dhawan is a study author and member of the AAN. 

Researchers analyzed 364 relevant studies published on climate change topics and their impact on adult neurologic disease between 1990 and 2022. They included 289 studies on the impact of pollution, 38 studies on extreme weather events and temperature fluctuations and 37 studies on emerging neuroinfectious diseases in their review.

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Their findings are concerning. Extreme weather events and temperature fluctuations were associated with stroke incidence and severity, migraine, hospitalization in dementia patients, and worsening of MS. And emerging neuroinfectious diseases like West Nile virus, meningococcal meningitis and tick-borne encephalitis, which are carried by animals and insects, pose a greater risk as these conditions expand beyond their traditional geographic regions due to rising temperatures and vanishing habitats. 

Airborne pollutants, especially nitrates and fine particulate matter, appear to be especially potent culprits in magnifying the severity of stroke, headaches, dementia risk, Parkinson’s disease and MS. 

“Climate change poses many challenges for humanity, some of which are not well-studied,” said Dhawan. “For example, our review did not find any articles related to effects on neurologic health from food and water insecurity, yet these are clearly linked to neurologic health and climate change.” 

Additional research should be done to gain a better understanding of how climate impacts the nervous system, he added. The authors identified 3 key priorities for further study: neuro-infectious disease risk mitigation, understanding the pathophysiology of airborne pollutants on the nervous system, and methods to improve delivery of neurologic care in the face of climate-related disruptions.

The AAN report underscores yet another urgent reason to address the threat of climate change. An analysis published ahead of the United Nations The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) cautioned that the world can only afford to emit greenhouse gasses at the current level for about nine more years before temperatures cross a critical 1.5-degree warming threshold.

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