Tickets, Passport, & Headache? The Curious Case of Vacation Migraine
Triggered After Travelling
Among the many things that trigger migraine, stress can be especially pernicious. Unlike other factors like certain foods or drinks, it’s more unpredictable, tougher, and more complex to manage. And alongside ensuring proper exercise, meditation, yoga, and other activities, going on vacation can be a lovely and essential stress-reliever. But, as many can attest, some migraineurs actually find attacks coming on after they get to their getaway, and studies have indeed noted an effect. 
Like a stowaway in your checked baggage, or a rainy day in paradise, headache and other symptoms can come on with reduction in stress. It’s something to be mindful of if you’re planning to get to the beach or hit the slopes. But how can this be the case? What’s causing these attacks? Let’s dig in to get a sense of this issue.
Noting some previous evidence of headache due to reductions in stress—what they termed “let-down headache”—Dr. Richard B. Lipton and a team of New York City and Connecticut-based researchers wanted to get a clearer sense of the relationship. Tracking daily diary entries from 22 adult migraineurs over a three-month period, they keyed in on perceived stress levels a day before onset of attack.  This would give them a sense of how stress-levels influence the condition.
And what did the researchers find? What arose was that while stress level, itself, was not a robust predictor of migraine, changes in it certainly increased chances of onset. Looking at when patients reported that stress was significantly reduced, they found increased headache attacks over the subsequent 6, 12, and 18 hours.  Furthermore, a significant effect was seen as far out as 48 hours. As observed here, there is something to those vacation headaches.
Dr. Lipton and the team’s research couldn’t provide any conclusive answers as to why reductions would lead to attacks; however, they proposed a couple of mechanisms. One was that they had “reversed cause and effect,” noting that “stress followed by reduction in stress” may not be “a trigger factor for migraine but a manifestation of the impending attack.”  Physiologically speaking, the thinking was that sudden reductions in the glucocorticoid hormones emitted during periods of stress may lead to a withdrawal effect leading to headache. With a small sample size, though, the authors emphasized the need for more research along these lines.
Leaving Migraine at Home
No matter the exact physiology at play, though, migraineurs do need to be mindful of their stress, even when there’s success in managing it. As a vacation is coming up, it’s a good idea to see about reducing these levels before the trip itself. This might mean being more organized about the tasks that need to get done before you leave—so that you’re not frantically packing or rushing to the airport—or making sure that relaxation techniques like exercise and mediation are strictly adhered to.
Furthermore, it’s essential that you get your sleep, as disruption in schedule there can definitely bring on attacks. This is especially good to keep in mind if your destination is in another time zone. Plan your vacation itinerary accordingly, and make sure you’re consistent. Notably, too, vacation can be when migraineurs may deviate from dietary restrictions or consume more alcohol, which are all notorious triggers. Even on the road, do the best you can to keep to your usual routine.
Travelling Away from Migraine
Ultimately, whether a vacation is coming up quickly or further on towards the horizon, migraine certainly casts a shadow. As difficult and complex as this condition is, however, migraineurs shouldn’t give up in the face of it. Not only is there a lot that you can do on your own to take it on, but medical approaches are getting better and better at eradicating or significantly minimizing the impact of the condition. Losing hope is not an option; so long as you’re trying, and despite the bumps, the path taken is one that leads to better outcomes.
If you or a loved one suffers from chronic migraine, in which attacks are occurring 15 or more times a month, the team at Migraine Treatment Centers of America can help. Specializing in the groundbreaking Omega Procedure, they’ve helped countless patients successfully manage the condition. Learn more about what they do by calling 469-638-0207 today!
- Lipton, R. B., D. C. Buse, C. B. Hall, H. Tennen, T. A. DeFreitas, T. M. Borkowski, B. M. Grosberg, and S. R. Haut. 2014. “Reduction In Perceived Stress As A Migraine Trigger: Testing The “Let-Down Headache” Hypothesis”. Neurology82 (16): 1395-1401. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health). doi:10.1212/wnl.0000000000000332.