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Research at Mass General
Research Roundup is a monthly column highlighting recent research studies from investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital. This month, we look at studies investigating strategies to predict migraine headaches, and a preliminary study investigating a potential association between exposure to flame retardant products and poorer pregnancy outcomes.
Making Migraines Less of a Headache: Researchers Find New Way to Predict Migraine Attacks
If you’ve ever felt the pulsating pain, nausea and blinding light sensitivity that comes with a migraine, you’re not alone. In the US, more than 37 million people get these severe, debilitating headache attacks that can last for several hours at a time.
If you’ve experienced migraines, you also know that their arrival can be sudden and unpredictable. Potential triggers can include stress, hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep and certain foods, but predicting the exact cause and time of an individual migraine attack has proven difficult.
Because perceived stress has received considerable attention for its association with the onset of headaches, a team of researchers led by Tim Houle, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, developed a forecasting model for predicting future migraine attacks based on current levels of stress and head pain.
To test out the model, the team recruited 95 participants with a history of migraines. Participants were asked to keep a daily diary recording the frequency and intensity of their stress levels and presence/absence of any head pain.
Of the 4,195 days of analyzed diary data, participants experienced a migraine on 1,613 of these days (38.5%). By analyzing participants’ self-reported stress levels, the research team found statistically significant evidence that stress was greater in the days leading up to a reported migraine.
These results provide the first statistically significant evidence that individual headache attacks can be forecasted within an individual sufferer. While more work is needed before the model is ready for clinical use, a system that reliably predicts the onset of migraines could provide much needed relief for chronic migraine sufferers.
Read the full study here
More than Just Hindering Fires – Can Flame Retardants Interfere with Fertility?
PFRs (organophosphate flame retardants) are a class of flame retardant chemicals commonly used in the polyurethane foam in household products. PFRs can spread from the foam into the air and dust, and a growing body of research suggests exposure to PFRs can disrupt the hormones involved in reproduction and embryo/fetus growth.
In a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives,a team of researchers, including Mass General’s Russ Hauser, MD, MPH, SCD, expanded the evidence base by specifically looking at possible connections between exposure to PFRs and pregnancy.
The team followed 211 women who went to the Mass General Fertility Center to be evaluated for in vitro fertilization (IVF). They checked the women's urine for traces of PFRs and found that more than 80% of the women had traces of three types PFRs in their urine. After a cycle of IVF treatments, those with high levels of the chemicals were 31% less likely to have the embryo successfully implant in the uterus, 41% less likely to achieve pregnancy, and a 38% less likely to have a live birth than those with low levels.
While the results don’t provide a definitive conclusion that household products like yoga mats cause infertility, they do suggest an association between high levels of PFR exposure and poor pregnancy outcomes.
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