Migraine Headaches Linked to Post-Stress Relaxation

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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.

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