Stress Goes To Your Head

Tension headaches and migraines more common as stress increased

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's not all in your head — stress really does make a difference when it comes to the headaches or migraines that you might experience.

At least, that's what a recent study found when tracking individuals for two years.

The more stress the participants reported experiencing, the more often they experienced tension-type headaches and/or migraines.

The findings mean that those who are already prone to headaches may need additional help in learning to manage stress.

"Ask your doctor for stress management tips."

This study, led by Sara H. Schramm, MD, of the University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen in Germany, looked at whether individuals' stress influences how often they have headaches or migraines.

The researchers screened 5,159 participants, aged 21 to 71, who were involved in the German Headache Consortium Study from 2010 to 2012.

The participants were given questionnaires about their stress on a scale of 0 to 100, the frequency of headaches and the types of headaches they experienced.

They also answered questions about their sex, use of pain medications, drinking, smoking, education and weight so that these factors could be taken into account in the analysis.

About a third (31 percent) of the participants reported experiencing tension-type headaches. They experienced them at an average rate of 2.2 days per month, and their stress scores were an average of 52.

Meanwhile, 11 percent reported having migraines that existed along with a tension-type headache, occurring an average 3.6 days per month. They had an average of 59 on the stress scale.

Another 17 percent of the participants experienced other types of headaches that were not classified as a particular kind.

When the researchers compared the participants' stress scores to their responses about headaches, a pattern appeared. The more intense the stress was that participants experienced, the more they had headaches of any kind.

Those with tension-type headaches, in particular, experienced a 6 percent increase in the frequency of their headaches for every 10 points higher they rated their stress.

For those with migraines or with migraines and tension-type headaches, their headaches increased 4 percent per month for every 10 points on their stress scale.

The researchers therefore concluded that there was, in fact, a link between stress and how often individuals experienced headaches.

"Our findings are of importance for stress management approaches in headache patients," these researchers wrote.

This study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in the spring.

The research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. No conflicts of interest were noted.

This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so its findings should be considered preliminary.

Review Date: 
February 19, 2014
Last Updated:
February 20, 2014