UGA study assess pain-based weather forecasting

For individuals who experience chronic pain, weather can be a significant factor in their day-to-day plans. In a recent study from the University of Georgia, about 70% of respondents said they would alter their behavior based on weather-based pain forecasts.

Lead author and geography/ atmospheric sciences lecturer Christopher Elcik’s interest in weather-related pain started in grade school, when he had two teachers that experienced chronic pain and could be greatly impacted by weather fronts.

“One teacher pulled me aside and made the joking comment that, ‘You know, I could probably forecast the weather better than any meteorologist just based on how my head is feeling,’” Elcik said. “And that stuck with me for a lot of years.”

After he began to experience migraines and their debilitating nature in college, he more eagerly pursued resources to improve the lives of individuals with chronic pain.

The study surveyed more than 4,600 individuals, and desire for a forecasting tool was quite high, Elcik said, with 72% of those living with migraine and 66% with pain-related conditions saying they would alter their behavior by canceling plans or taking preventative measures in response to a weather-based pain forecast.

When faced with a hypothetical risk, more than half of respondents said they were likely to take preventative measures, such as medication, resting or avoiding compounding triggers. Additionally, as level for risk increased, so did the likelihood to alter plans.

Among individuals with migraines:

  • 47% were “extremely likely” to take preventative measures
  • 57% were “extremely likely” to continue plans of 30 minutes or less when faced with a moderate risk forecast

Among individuals with other pain-related conditions:

  • 46% were “extremely likely” to take preventative measures
  • 52% were “extremely likely” to continue plans of 30 minutes or less when faced with a moderate risk forecast

Some respondents reported already using web-based tools, such as an arthritis or migraine forecast, which can predict low-to-high risk according to atmospheric conditions. With existing tools, however, there is little available information about the variables considered or how the predictions are made.

“This was across the board,” Elcik said. “Everyone was more likely to cancel plans if the forecast risk was higher.”

While additional research and studies are needed to create a reliable pain-based weather forecast, Elcik said this study highlights the importance of developing such a resource.

“This publication shows there’s an audience that’s willing and eager to try something new, and there are probably many more people who would benefit—more than we even thought,” he said. “I think these results can push other researchers to also look at similar, larger-scale weather phenomena and help the community better understand how the atmosphere does impact pain.”

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