Research at the MGH is interwoven throughout more than 30 departments, centers and units, and is conducted with the support and guidance of the MGH Research Institute. The Research Roundup is a monthly series highlighting studies, news and events.

Making Migraines Less of a Headache: Researchers Find New Way to Predict Migraine Attacks

People who have felt the pulsating pain, nausea and blinding light sensitivity that comes with a migraine are not alone. In the U.S., more than 37 million people get these severe, debilitating headache attacks that can last for several hours at a time.

Those who have experienced migraines, also know their arrival can be sudden and unpredictable. Potential migraine 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, of MGH Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine, 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 the presence or 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 percent).  By analyzing participants’ self-reported stress levels, the research team found statistically significant evidence, published in the journal Headache, that stress was greater in the days leading up to a reported migraine.

These results provide the first statistically significant evidence that headache attacks can be forecasted for an individual patient. 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 chemicals commonly used in polyurethane foam in household products. PFRs can spread from the foam into the air and dust. 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 Russ Hauser, MD, MPH, SCD, of MGH Obstetrics and Gyncology, specifically looked at possible connections between exposure to PFRs and pregnancy. 

The team followed 211 women who came to the MGH 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 percent 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 percent less likely to have the embryo successfully implant in the uterus, 41 percent less likely to achieve pregnancy, and a 38 percent less likely to have a live birth than those with low levels.

While the results don’t provide a definitive conclusion that household products cause infertility, they do suggest an association between high levels of PFR exposure and poor pregnancy outcomes. 

Read more articles from the 09/29/17 Hotline issue.