What A Headache
February 22, 2014

What A Headache

Until recently, I had always kept it from my family that I suffered from the occasional migraine. It was not a big secret or anything, just nothing I ever felt really needed to be told. I get headaches and occasionally they are quite crippling, but so what? It’s part of life. A couple hours in a dark, quite place to just sit and relax and I am fine again. What causes them? Who knows? For me, they tend to come at random, though I have friends who definitely have a set trigger for theirs.

So, what causes headaches? Is it stress? For many people, this is a fairly common idea. Even I will admit to occasionally feeling the pressure start to build in the base of my skull when I get overly stressed out. It is a no-brainer, right? Stress causes headaches. Or does it? Apparently, this phenomenon that many people consider to just be a true statement has rarely, if ever, been scientifically tested. Well, the AAN (American Academy of Neurology) thought it was time for that to change.

In order to conduct this study, more than 5,000 people between the ages of 21 and 71 were surveyed about both their general stress levels as well as if/when/how often they have headaches. This was done four times a year for two years. During the eight interviews they had with each of the participants, the participants were asked to rate their stress levels as between zero and 100 and asked how frequently per month they had headaches – asking that they document each time they had one during the time between interviews. Of the test group, 31 percent of them had tension-type headaches, 14 percent had migraine headaches, 11 percent had a combination of migraine and tension-type headaches, and another 17 percent of the test group had headaches that were not classified. On average, those with tension-type headaches rated their overall stress level as being around 52 of 100, migraine headache suffers noted theirs as being 62, and those who had a combination of the two rated their average stress at around 59. What the observers noted was that for every type of headache, an increase in the participants’ level of stress did have a notable impact on the number of headaches they suffered per month. For those who suffered from tension headaches, when their stress levels were noted as being ten points higher they reported an increase of 6.3 percent in how many headaches they had per month. Migraine sufferers noted an increase in headaches of 4.3 percent and those with a combination of the two showed an increase in headaches of a flat four percent. These results were all adjusted to accommodate for factors that could affect the frequency of headaches such as drinking, smoking, and the common use of anti-headache medicine.

What this shows us, according to Dr. Sara H. Schramm of the University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen, Germany, is that stress is indeed a problem for everyone who suffers from headaches. She also advises that such individuals – such as yours truly – needs to learn the importance of stress management, especially as the stress of having a headache can compound the stress someone is already suffering and spiral into more frequent or more intense headaches overall, a very nasty spiral.

Image Credit: DJTaylor / Shutterstock

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