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Why climate change is making headaches worse

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healthcare, pain, stress, age and people concept - senior man suffering from headache at home
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Headaches are getting worse - due to climate change, warns new research.

Global warming is fueling a rise in neurological diseases - ranging from migraines to Alzheimer's, according to the findings.

People with Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis (MS) may also experience worsening symptoms, say scientists.

Strokes are expected to become more prevalent too as the planet heats up. Global warming causes air pollution.

Smog from traffic and industry contains tiny toxic particles called PM2.5s. They get into the bloodstream after being breathed into the lungs - and can travel to the brain.

"Although the international community seeks to reduce global temperature rise to under 2.7 ºF before 2100, irreversible environmental changes have already occurred, and as the planet warms these changes will continue to occur," said lead author Dr. Andrew Dhawan, of the Cleveland Clinic.

"As we witness the effects of a warming planet on human health, it is imperative neurologists anticipate how neurologic disease may change."

The study found extreme weather events and temperature fluctuations were associated with stroke incidence and severity, migraines, hospitalization in dementia patients and worsening of MS.

For emerging neuroinfectious diseases like West Nile virus, meningococcal meningitis and tick-borne encephalitis, climate change expanded the favorable conditions beyond the traditional geographic areas.

These diseases carried by animals and insects pose the risk of disease in new populations.

Exposure to airborne pollutants, especially nitrates and PM 2.5s spewed from car exhausts increased the risk of stroke, headaches, dementia, Parkinson's and MS.

"Climate change poses many challenges for humanity, some of which are not well-studied," Dhawan said.

"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.

"More studies are needed on ways to reduce neuroinfectious disease transmission, how air pollution affects the nervous system, and how to improve delivery of neurologic care in the face of climate-related disruptions."

The findings are based on 364 previously published studies on pollution, climate change, temperature extremes and neurological diseases between 1990 and 2022. The US team only looked at the effects on adults, not children.

Analyses highlighted the relationships between temperature variability and worsening neurological symptoms, warming climates and tick and mosquito-borne infections, as well as airborne pollutants and cerebrovascular disease rate and severity.

The results in the journal Neurology applied to wealthy countries.

Impacts may be even more severe in resource poor regions of the world, the researchers added.

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