Migraine Headaches Linked to Post-Stress Relaxation

    March 31, 2014
    Sean Patterson
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For millions of Americans migraine headaches can appear suddenly and often lead to debilitating pain. Because migraines are still not well-understood by the medical community, treatments for the condition currently involve medications or odd-looking headbands and magnetic head devices. New research, though, is now linking migraines to some unlikely factors and could lead to breakthroughs in treatment.

A new study published the journal Neurology has linked migraine headaches to a short-term reduction in stress. In other words, the study found that the relaxation that follows a bout of stress may be a trigger for migraines.

The study provides evidence for a growing body or research linking stress to migraine headaches. The findings could show that managing stress could be an important factor for migraine sufferers, as preventing severe stress could eliminate the cool-down that was linked to migraines in the study.

“This study demonstrates a striking association between reduction in perceived stress and the occurrence of migraine headaches,” said Dr. Richard Lipton, lead author of the study and the director of the Montefiore Headache Center. “Results were strongest during the first six hours where decline in stress was associated with a nearly five-fold increased risk of migraine onset. The hormone cortisol, which rises during times of stress and reduces pain, may contribute to the triggering of headache during periods of relaxation.”

Lipton and his colleagues looked at 17 migraine patients over a three month period for the study. The patients were asked to keep an electronic diary tracking various suspected migraine triggers such as sleep, food, and menstrual cycles. The diaries were compared to determine if stress might predict the onset of migraines. Through examination of the 110 migraines recorded during the period, researchers were able to determine the link between coming down from high stress and migraines.

Though the study was not able to determine the direct cause of migraines, the study’s authors were still able to make recommendations based on its findings. They suggest that migraine sufferers learn stress reduction techniques, such as exercise and breathing mindfully, that might help them relax before becoming too stressed.

  • Food Stress

    I’ve been having migraines for years. I’ve finally found the major sources to my migraines. The foods I’ve been eating cause migraines. In my case, it has been potatoes, grapes, some beers and food additives such as Maltodextrin, a sugar substitute found in many processed foods. While stress is always something to factor in, the foods have been the major causes. It has taken me years to figure this out.

    • Ines

      How did you find that out?

      • http://www.bookbinges.blogspot.com/ Cynthia Parten

        Ines, there is a book you should read: Heal your headache, the 1-2-3 program. It talks about all the possible food triggers for migraines and how to find out what yours are. I also discovered that my diet had a LOT to do with my headaches, Maltodextrin and MSG are big ones for me, as well as aspartame and artificial sweeteners. Beer, red wine, dark chocolate, caffeine and raisins also have an effect on me.

      • Food Stress

        I figured it out by trial and error. I ate what seemed to cause the migraine and if it did, I knew that food caused it. I also had to ask a butcher for the ingredients to pre-seasoned pork ribs to figure out which addictive caused my migraines.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ Laura Ann Burdine Schutze

    I had horrid migraines that really destroyed my quality of life from the time I was 10 years old until I was 56 years old. I had my last menstrual cycle, and never had another headache. I tried food remedies, herbal remedies, yoga, deep breathing during periods of stress, staying away from paint, perfume, and insect sprays of all kinds. The latter chemical sensitivities could bring one on instantly. Also weather changes brought on lesser vascular, pounding headaches that visited when the barometer changed. Wearing a tight bathing cap (SPEEDO) helped those. Since menopause, I take amitriptyline, which was never effective before menopause, and it has stopped the barometer headaches. I exercise, don’t eat much packaged food or extremely sugary food, and get regular sleep. I haven’t missed a day of life in 12 years. Up until then I was out of commission at least half the time, which was a real bummer, and I did consider suicide at around 45-50 years old. Now, I enjoy playing the organ at a church and directing the choirs (that was what I graduated college to do.) I take MOOC courses online and work to help my community sign up for the ACA Marketplace health insurance. I enjoy my grown children and spouses and their offspring and doggies, etc. I’m glad I stuck it out and chose to live until they came out with shots and pills that actually made me able to function pretty well during attacks, because I am having a nice old age! If you have severe headaches like I did, don’t give up!!

  • JoyO

    I have had migraines for over 45 years. My first was at age 12… my mother talked with me about what was happening (she also suffered for years with migraines) and we discovered it was the last week of school and tests were over. She always taught me that I should plan something after a high stress time to help bring myself down slower. My 2 migraine triggers are barometric pressure (weather changes and airplane flights… even long fast elevators) and stress reduction that happens too fast. I have had instant migraine attacks after speaking before large crowds and always managed to have a migraine the first day of vacation (after planning, packing and getting family there). Really, I’m surprised that it took so long for this study to find what I was taught back in the 1970’s by my Mom.

  • jones

    Its really funny because my day began really stressful with work and after watching opening day and my team winning I’m no longer stressed. But I got this killer migraine and so happened to stumble upon this article on yahoo.
    What are the chances. Never knew this was a link.

  • Bob

    This article is right on with the pattern of my migraines: Saturday morning. I’m a teacher and was always frustrated that I’d be fine (usually) for the whole week, and then wake up Sat morn with a full-on migraine. I could never pinpoint it to anything I’d done Friday night: didn’t matter if I’d had some drinks or not, didn’t correlate with any specific type of food I’d had for dinner, or how much sleep I’d gotten: nothing. I’d recover (usually) by Sunday, and then wake up Monday with no symptoms. Kind of had a hunch that it had something to do with the ‘come-down’ in stress, but had never seen anything scientific about it till this article. It’s actually a relief to get this news.

  • merriecat

    The “letdown headache” was documented over 30 years ago or more in textbooks. This theory is not news to me.

    • indianfan

      I agree…I’ve had “letdown” migraines for years. Once everything calms down and you know all is taken care of…BAM! a migraine hits you.

      • merriecat

        Yes most of my headaches were of that sort. Relief or a solution to a stressful event or situation.

  • Peg Clendenin

    This is NOT news! I learned about this back in the ’70s when I went to the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. “Weekend Headaches” were well-known way back then, and I was a classic example.

    • Jennifer

      Not news to me, either. Two days after a stressful event, and I’d be down for the count for the next two days.

  • Alice Moore Craig

    I can’t believe that there is an article written about this when only 117 patients were tested….how can you base a study on something that affects millions on just 17 people.

  • Nicolette

    Yes! I remember one month, when I was about forty, when I had a severe headache every Saturday–the one day that I didn’t have to get up early. (They diminished greatly after menopause and went away almost entirely after I retired.)

    • merriecat

      Yes they say menopause brings relief. Weekend headaches were common with me too.

  • MGR

    I hope this was a privately funded study, because the authors could have saved time and money with a simple checklist for subjects to fill out. And if the “proof is in the pudding,” they could have saved even on the checklists, as the resulting recommendations are commonplace pieces of advice that all migraine suffers have heard before.