Why Happiness May Lead to Migraines

May 14, 2012

After the Cinco de Mayo festivities this past weekend in cities ranging from Boston, Los Angeles and Houston, migraine sufferers may have been surprised by an attack in the following days.  Fiestas across the country included great food, music, margheritas and late nights.  Somehow, you made it through all of that, but you were slammed with an excruciating migraine once the buzz died down.  Spicy foods, loud noise, alcohol and little sleep are all-too familiar migraine triggers to avoid on your list of drug free migraine treatments.  So why did the migraine arrive only after the excitement actually ended?

Dawn Buse, PhD, director of psychology at Montefiore Medical Center, New York City, led a recent study confirming the “let-down headache” hypothesis, which states that reductions in stress and improvements in mood predict headache onset in people with migraines. She noted in Pain Medicine News, “This is a common notion among both health care providers and sufferers, but to my knowledge no systematically collected data has been published.”

The study analyzed data from the diaries of 17 migraine patients who were directed to track their moods in the morning and evening for 30 days.  Researchers found that after the subjects’ moods changed from sad or nervous to happy or relaxed, they were 20% more likely to experience a migraine. This may seem odd to sufferers who treat their migraine drug free by trying to specifically avoid stress and practice relaxation therapies. Juline Bryson, MD, attending neurologist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, in New York City, suggested one possible explanation. “Migraines would normally be more likely during times of stress because people do not eat or sleep well, and when that protective endogenous ‘shield’ is dropped, the migraine breaks through.” .” In other words, even though a migraine starts when you have stress, you might not feel the effects until you unwind.

For Houston migraine sufferers and migraineurs in other warm cities hardest hit by allergies, this news is not exactly inspiring.  How can you celebrate the arrival of summer without triggering a migraine attack? We’ve discussed earlier, effective ways to manage allergies, but how can you enjoy the parties, avoid stress, and treat any migraine drug free, when it arrives?  The answer may simply be, learning to “Chill Out.” In the words of the study’s authors: “Awareness of mood and stress may improve headache prediction and provide targets for behavioral or pharmacological interventions.”

Previous post:

Next post: