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Does Stress Results in Headaches?

A new study suggests that stress in daily life may result in headaches.

The two-year study invited 5,159 participants age 21 to 71 and asked them to state how many headaches they experienced each month and what kind of headaches they had. The participants were required to report these information four times a year. In the same time, the participants were also surveyed about their stress levels and asked to rate their stress level on a scale of zero to 100.

The data reveals that about 31 percent of the participants had tension-type headache, 14 percent had migraine, 11 percent had migraine combined with tension type headache and 17 percent had headache that they could not classify the type. In the stress rating, those with tension-type headache rated their stress at an average of 52 out of 100. For participants with migraine, the average is 62 and the number for those with migraine combined with tension-type headache is 59. The author of the study, Sara H. Schramm, MD, of University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen in Germany says: “Young people show a trend of having more frequent headaches with more stress, but we don’t have evidence to prove that gender difference can lead to different stress level rating and frequency of headache.”


Young people are more likely to have the trend of having more frequent headaches with more stress.  *Image source: shutterstock.


For each of the four types of headache, an increase in stress is connected with an increase in the number of headaches per month. For participants with tension-type headache, a 10-point increase on the stress scale is accompanied by a 6.3-percent increase in the number of headache days each month. For those who have migraine, the number of headache days per month goes up by 4.3 percent, and 4 percent for those who had migraine combined with tension-type headache. The results were adjusted to account for possible factors that may influence the number of headaches, such as smoking, drinking, and frequent use of headache drugs.

Sara notes: “Currently, the biological mechanism of stress leading to tension-type headache and migraine is not clarified and it is still in investigation about whether there is a different between the mechanisms of tension-type headache and migraine caused by stress. Researchers are utilizing more research approaches, including psychology, physiology, and sociology methods to further explore in this phenomenon.”

 “These results suggest that for people who suffer from headaches and try to find a cure, it is important to find a good stress management approach,” she said. “The results add weight to the concept that stress could be a factor contributing to the onset of headache disorders, and accelerate research to find treatment for associated diseases. It should be emphasized that the headache experience itself may serve as a stressor.”

More details about this study will be brought out at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, April 26 to May 3, 2014.