Stress does give you more headaches, study shows

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Ever feel that more stress gives you more headaches? Science is now saying you may be right.

A new study showed that people who have more headaches are also more likely to have high levels of stress. The study's authors say headache sufferers may want to learn some stress management techniques like deep breathing. 

“These results show that this is a problem for everyone who suffers from headaches and emphasize the importance of stress management approaches for people with migraine and those who treat them,” study author Dr. Sara H. Schramm, from the University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen in Germany, said in a press release. “The results add weight to the concept that stress can be a factor contributing to the onset of headache disorders, that it accelerates the progression to chronic headache, exacerbates headache episodes, and that the headache experience itself can serve as a stressor.”

 Researchers interviewed 5,159 people between the ages of 21 to 71 four times a year for two years, asking them about their stress levels and the number of headaches they’ve experienced.

A little less than one-third of the participants said they'd had a tension-type headache, the most common kind of headache that feels like a tightness or pressure on the forehead or back of the neck. They lasted about 2.2 days per month. Those people scored an average of 52 out of 100 on a stress scale.

Migraine sufferers were less common: Only 14 percent of participants reported a migraine. These headaches are more pulsating and can be moderate or severe in pain intensity. However, their pain persisted for a total of about 4.5 days on average. They recorded a 62 on the stress scale.

Just 11 percent had both a migraine and tension-type headache, which lasted about 3.6 days on average. Those people had a 59-point stress score.

There was a clear correlation between more stress and more headaches per month. For every 10-point increase on the stress scale, tension-headache sufferers had 6.3 percent more headaches per month or about 3.3 hours more of headaches each month. 

 Migraine sufferers had a 4.3 percent increase in incidents, or about 4.6 extra headache hours per month.

Those who experienced both types of headaches had a 4 percent increase in the length of their headaches, or 3.5 hours per month.  

Dr. Souhel Najjar, director of the Neuroscience Center at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, told HealthDay that constant headaches are a public health issue that affect people’s lives, contributing to problems economically and socially.

"This finding is important and suggests that identifying sources of chronic stress, and utilizing strategies directed toward elimination or modification of stress, including meditation, deep breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques, can be very effective in reducing the frequency of all types of headaches, particularly tension headaches," Najjar, who was not involved in the study, said.

The results will be presented at the 2014 American Association of Neurology Annual Meeting, held on April 26 through May 3 in Philadelphia.


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