Air pollution, methane super-emitters, and oil and gas wells in Northern California: the relationship with migraine headache prevalence and exacerbation

Elser, Holly; Morello-Frosch, Rachel; Jacobson, Alice; Pressman, Alice; Kioumourtzoglou, Marianthi-Anna; Reimer, Richard; Casey, Joan A.

Migraine–an episodic disorder characterized by severe headache that can lead to disability–affects over 1 billion people worldwide. Prior studies have found that short-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone increases risk of migraine-related emergency department (ED) visits. Our objective was to characterize the association between long-term exposure to sources of harmful emissions and common air pollutants with both migraine headache and, among patients with migraine, headache severity.

From the Sutter Health electronic health record database, we identified 89,575 prevalent migraine cases between 2014 and 2018 using a migraine probability algorithm (MPA) score and 270,564 frequency-matched controls. Sutter Health delivers care to 3.5 million patients annually in Northern California. Exposures included 2015 annual average block group-level PM2.5 and NO2 concentrations, inverse-distance weighted (IDW) methane emissions from 60 super-emitters located within 10 km of participant residence between 2016 and 2018, and IDW active oil and gas wells in 2015 within 10 km of each participant. We used logistic and negative binomial mixed models to evaluate the association between environmental exposures and (1) migraine case status; and (2) migraine severity (i.e., MPA score > 100, triptan prescriptions, neurology visits, urgent care migraine visits, and ED migraine visits per person-year). Models controlled for age, sex, race/ethnicity, Medicaid use, primary care visits, and block group-level population density and poverty.

In adjusted analyses, for each 5 ppb increase in NO2, we observed 2% increased odds of migraine case status (95% CI: 1.00, 1.05) and for each 100,000 kg/hour increase in IDW methane emissions, the odds of case status also increased (OR = 1.04, 95% CI: 1.00, 1.08). We found no association between PM2.5 or oil and gas wells and migraine case status. PM2.5 was linearly associated with neurology visits, migraine-specific urgent care visits, and MPA score > 100, but not triptans or ED visits. NO2 was associated with migraine-specific urgent care and ED visits, but not other severity measures. We observed limited or null associations between continuous measures of methane emissions and proximity to oil and gas wells and migraine severity.

Our findings illustrate the potential role of long-term exposure to multiple ambient air pollutants for prevalent migraine and migraine severity.

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December 20, 2022


Electronic health records, Migraine, Methane, oil and gas fields, Nitrogen dioxide, Particulate matter, Environmental exposure