Doc's Cluster Headache Journal

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Latitude Effect?

A while back a visitor mentioned in a post that people believe location in reference to the earths equator has some effect on cluster headaches. At the time, I had only heard that the theory existed, I had never seen any facts or real studies... A quick poke around seemed to indicate that its based mostly on anecdotal evidence at this point. I can still find no studies. That doesn't mean they don't exist, I didn't look very hard.

I tend to update my knowledge in waves... I am a bit like an Anne Rice vampire that buries himself for one hundred years until things change enough to be interesting... I have had this affliction for so long that its a bit depressing to hash over the stuff that doesn't seem to make any difference or hasn't been thoroughly researched. So every few years I go on a tear... usually because I get one too many REALLY bad cycles and I find out every new bit of information I can. By the end of it, I usually end up a little beaten up because nothing seems to be a firm answer or pertain to me and I begin wondering if I should switch neurologists again and crawl back beneath the surface.

Personally it seems a bit far fetched to me, but finding every bit of the puzzle helps. So this is a quick post to remind myself to look into it further when I am in "research mode" and also to tell people if I think my living in southern latitudes has had a positive effect on my headaches.

Now I would say that in my personal experience that I can NOT confirm the equator phenomena. I live in one of the southern most US states and when I travel I usually go north and spend good amounts of time in places like Boston, and Sandpoint Idaho, Squiem Washington, San Francisco, Victoria Canada and it seems to have the opposite effect. I have noticed I get less headaches... But the same was true when I went to Belize. Basically, when I leave home, I do better.

But then, I am too small of a sample (and I don't travel enough) to base any firm opinions on...

A lot of people seem to be moving because of this... believe me I understand, most of us will do anything for a chance to feel better. But I want to see data before I start packing my bags... because I sure can't go much further south unless I leave the U.S.A. and I really hate the heat. : )


  • I notice with major weather changes my clusters increase. They are worse at home and less when I travel.

    I posted something last year on some alternative therapy and yoga that has helped. I was on topamax (dopamax)for over a year and it killed my creative idiot sevant ability to design, or maybe it was coincidence. OMG, I got like ultra thin and that was great! I understand you are a musician, has it affected you? Do you feel numb?

    I still get the headaches every once in awhile.; yoga, and frequent trips to the chiropractor seem make them less frequent and less severe.

    At any rate, I really enjoy reading your blog. I don't have time to go to a therapist.


    By Blogger design-block, at 12/05/2009 9:18 PM  

  • Hi Abbey,

    It's interesting to hear that your clusters also lessen when you travel. I personally don't notice much effect from changes in the weather.

    In addition to music, I also do "strange" miniature tableau photography and I make a living as an art director / graphic designer / photographic illustrator so being "creatively sharp" is important to me.

    I would say that when I first started Topamax it subtly messed with me in many ways... I was having a little trouble in all cognitive areas, but at that time the headaches were so bad that I didn't have much chance of being totally on the ball creatively because of how tired and in pain I was so much of the time. The longer I have been on Topamax the more my body seems to "get used to it". The feeling of being "off" or dulled has faded with time.

    I have done some great work recently that I am very proud of so I don't feel like the topamax is limiting me creatively. I have experienced that feeling more dramatically with other medications and I hated it. So I understand what you mean. I stopped taking several things in the past because I thought they were messing with my ability to work.

    And... I have lost no weight at all! What the hell! The one side effect I WANTED! lol

    Thank you for the kind remarks about my blog. I love hearing that my crazy ranting is enjoyed by people.

    By Blogger Murdock Scott, at 12/09/2009 12:22 AM  

  • Scott - Usually when a medical condition shows a latitude effect, it is a result of changes in vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin). A vitamin D deficiency has be implicated in numerous serious diseases, and it possibly may be affecting you. If that is the problem it's wonderful news because 5000 IU a day of vitmain D3can easily solve the problem. It's very cheap (around ten cents a day), there is little or no risk, and most people need more anyway.

    Let me know how it works at BigBlue [at sign] cox [dot] net.
    Good luck! Big Blue

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/25/2009 1:05 AM  

  • Big Blue,

    From what I have discovered, there is little evidence that would indicate clusters headaches are caused by a vitamin D deficiency. It certainly could be a "trigger" for the attacks however, many things are.

    Myself, I live in a place that gets huge amounts of sun... I could not avoid it if tried. My headaches started a few years AFTER I moved south. So my "sample of one" (not great science) would tend to disagree with any latitude Effect, even as a trigger. Also I usually (when I am on track with my regimen) take a multivitamin which contains 400 IU of vitamin D and I eat a pretty balanced diet so I am certain some is sneaking in there as well.

    But thats the thing about headaches, different people have different triggers and that makes finding clear information difficult. Someone will swear that all you have to do is drink tons of water and you will never get a cluster attack again and they will be absolutely right... but it will only work for them and a small percentage of others.

    For me, I just don't think vitamin deficiency is the issue, but you never know. I could have a problem making it or absorbing it. At any rate, I firmly believe that when a "cause" for clusters and migraines is nailed down for good, it will be a neurological one. I think it will be found to be a response to minor malfunctions of the brain. It seems that the evidence is leaning that way.

    If my brain were a car engine...

    Cold weather and using bad gas might be the triggers. The timing chain being off would be the "cause". And the knocking and rattling would be the headaches.

    In other words... You might be able to eliminate the potential triggers but that won't solve the problem.

    By Blogger Murdock Scott, at 12/25/2009 7:12 AM  

  • Just one more bit of anecdotal evidence: I live in the Boston area and travelled to FL during a cycle. Two days into the trip, the cycle abrubtly ended, way ahead of schedule!

    I don't know if it has something to do with flying, change in the weather, or daylight. I assumed the change in daylength had something to do with clusters, I get them in the spring, fall or winter, never in the summer!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1/11/2010 3:04 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/01/2010 11:29 AM  

  • i have noticed the same. I got that conclusion during one of my research mode days. I lived in Colombia South America and I moved here 9 years ago, since the second week I moved here my cluster started non stoping, I also barely know cases in my country and around the ecuator of cluster ppl. Most of them are in Canda, Us, england, spain, Italy and south, New zeland, Australia , chile and Argentina...coincidence? how about cases around the ecuator area? I wnet to Colombia during a cycle and it stoped for 3 days in a high altitude place but once I was back to the city (lower altitude) they came back...maybe the latitud combined with electrical particles (ions) in the air can affect the chemestry of our brains...maybe is even coming from the sun(solar storms)...I know we all look for an explanation.I wonder if there is any doctor that suffer of this

    By Blogger Unknown, at 10/06/2010 8:02 PM  

  • Had a little downtime and was scanning the web regarding new treatments for cluster headaches. I have suffered scince I was 14 with the attacks getting further apart as the years go on but lasting longer each time. strange thing happened in 2009. Shortly before an onset of clusters I was told my vitamin D was low and started on a high dose one a week. Headaches started about 2 weeks later...odd thing...they were shorter each time I got them...reached their peak after only a week and 1/2 and were gone in 4 weeks. Normal for me is 10 weeks...was it the fact the my D was low and as it came up the headaches went away or was it the high does that triggered them..or not related at all. Other weird thing...was the least sunny year in my area (Boston) that I can remember..rained all of July I had no sun time that year...just started me thinking...alwasy get my headaches late fall or early spring...hmmmm could it be the vitamin D????

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/18/2011 7:58 AM  

  • I've been suffering from clusters since I was about 12-13 years old. I'm now 27. I moved from Florida to Maine a few years ago. There was no change. That's my anecdotal evidence counter the proposal that equator has an impact. Clearly, this isn't the case. I don't think anyone has figure out the "cause"...only the mechanisms...(hypothalmus, etc).

    Either way...I'm really on the brink. This is the worst cycle I've ever had in my life. Literally crying tears, and I don't cry...ever.

    By Anonymous jon day, at 3/08/2011 4:38 PM  

  • Jon,

    I am way behind in responding to posts, but I saw yours and wanted to say that I have been "on the brink" many, many times. If there something that can drive an otherwise strong person to the breaking point, then it would be this affliction of ours. I know how crushing it is... I understand the agony, the feeling of relief when an attack is over, and the creeping fear of how bad the next one might be. But we both know that they END, and as much as it sucks to have them, they can't really beat us. It helps me to remember all the times I have gotten through cycles before. Each cycle could be our last after all. I hope you have resolve to not let the clusters take over. I know no tougher class of person than the strong willed cluster sufferer. Good luck.

    Oh and yeah, The latitude thing seems off base to me. People grasping at straws... I understand why they want to believe it, but I don't think it moves us closer to real understanding.

    By Blogger Murdock Scott, at 3/09/2011 1:53 AM  

  • I did observe a trend with headaches starting and progressing each year, onset June-July when living in CT, NY, MI, and MN...a move to St louis lead to 6 years headache back North to MA and suffering them again (I also drove a convertible everywhere but st. Louis and am wondering about allergies and exposure to various allergens) who knows...but my sample of one supports this somewhat

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/13/2011 4:45 PM  

  • I have to agree changing latitude has a definite affect on my cluster headache cycle. I live in London England but used to live in Manchester England. I only started having CHs after moving to London, but after living in Fortworth Texas (god bless the USA)for 2 months and moving back to London my CH cycle altered. Instead of getting my cycle approx one week before the equinox now I get them 2 months before. Strange.
    If there are any rich CH suffers out there buy an island on the equator and let us all live there :-)

    By Blogger rick_rock, at 10/06/2011 7:53 AM  

  • Ten years ago after years of switching back and forth between chronic and episodic cluster headaches, I took a job with a new company.

    Part of my job was to travel to North Carolina from Chicago for 1 week in the Spring and the fall.

    I have been free of all headaches for 10 years.

    Last fall the company went into decline and I did not make the be-annual trip. Same for this spring.

    A week ago I had my first of a series of headaches in ten years.

    I'm inclined to believe that Latitude makes a very big difference

    By Blogger Robert Kleeman, at 10/10/2011 8:56 PM  

  • I was probably the guy who posted that. The research was based on statistics. Also I never suggested that moving or anything else would be of help. I was just stating what I felt to be an interesting stat. nothing more.

    By Blogger Scorpionhand, at 11/18/2011 6:19 PM  

  • Also - could you show me your scientific evidence that states "a lot of people are moving because of this" -

    If we are afraid to share ideas because there is not multiple studies available, then we will not get anywhere. We are an extreme minority - there's a stat for that one too, and with that comes very little research.

    There are quite a few clinical trials that I've read that are complete bull, and I know it because I suffer. But the powers that be in the research community come to conclusions very quickly. This is where the true danger in misinformation is.

    By Blogger Scorpionhand, at 11/18/2011 6:51 PM  

  • Scorpionhand,

    At the time I had made this post I believe more than one person had posted or sent me messages about the latitude effect. I had also read some threads on message boards that had some very strong opinions about it. I'm not sure if your post was the one that lead me to finally address it... but with so many people feeling it has some importance, I felt I wanted to explore my feelings on the subject and remind myself to look into it further. I don't think my post was intended as a direct response to anyone.

    I was kidding about my moving as I recall, but I had read on message boards about people that had claimed to have done it of were planning to. It would not surprise me if that were at least somewhat true, You know how desperate cluster sufferers can get.

    By Blogger Murdock Scott, at 11/19/2011 2:40 AM  

  • Scorpionhand,

    "Also - could you show me your scientific evidence that states "a lot of people are moving because of this" -"

    Scientific whosiwhatnow? I certainly never claimed that there was ANY such "evidence" and I don't really think that its even implied. I think it should be somewhat clear that it was the set-up for a tongue-in-cheek coment. I guess I could have been more accurate and wrote "It seems people on message boards are moving or considering moving because of this". Remember, I don't ever claim to be an expert or even someone people should take advice from, I'm just a guy who hurts... like you.

    If we are afraid to share ideas because there is not multiple studies available, then we will not get anywhere. We are an extreme minority - there's a stat for that one too, and with that comes very little research.
    Why would anyone be afraid to share ideas? I think I treated the concept pretty fairly especially considering it's not something I personally put a lot of stock in.

    It's not necessary to remind me about the lack of research, I have been at this for a good long while.

    You seem annoyed, So, lets try to defuse this... I don't dispute that relation to the equator might have some effect for some people... I just simply cautious about putting to much emphasis on it and I don't personally believe it will prove out to have a major effect. I wonder it the statistics (I still can't find them) could be skewed by other factors. I don't personally think it has anything to do with vitamin D, Honestly, I think supliment marketers may be just tanking advantage of vulnerable people by making claims and posting to headache sites. Now, The length of night and day cycles having some effect on a percentage of cluster sufferers... THAT makes some sense to me because it could be related to the hypothalamus. But, thats all just one guys oppinion, A guy that knows no better that any other cluster sufferer. I make no claims to and never have. I am sorry if I made you feel unwelcome.

    By the way where is your original post? I can't find it. I wanted to look and see if I said anything stupid back then. heh.

    Hey, I see you started a Cluster Journal recently, I think its great to express what you are going through to others. Many people find this blog and seem to get some comfort just from reading about someone having the same experiences. I haven't been updating much of late for a couple of reasons. So

    By Blogger Murdock Scott, at 11/19/2011 4:56 AM  

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