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Stress and Migraine

18 April 2019

Oh, it’s probably just stress!

Migraine sufferers are often told “oh, it’s probably just stress!”

This annoying dismissal of the impact of this complex, genetic neurological disorder may be frustrating but is also partially true.


How does stress affect migraine?

We know that the biochemical changes of the body’s response to stress can be one of the changes that irritates the migraine sufferer’s brain.The brain of a migraineur is sensitive to sensory inputs and changes even when there is no headache present.

So increasing levels of stress and even reducing levels of stress can contribute to triggering an attack.The so-called let-down headache commonly found at the weekend after a busy week at work is one example of this.


In one study stress was cited as a trigger by 66.7% of patients and reduction of stress by 50%.


The relationship between stress and migraine is a tricky balance. Migraine is quite stressful. A typical migraine attack means one might have to stop everything: work, social events, family time, personal time etc. Many migraineurs say that they can never schedule or plan anything because they might have to cancel last minute due to a migraine. This uncertainty causes more stress. Those who get regular migraines, their migraine acts as a stress inducer.

The way a sufferer responds to stress can contribute or can help.


Managing stress

Many of our patients find stress reducing techniques like simple relaxation exercises or mindfulness helpful.

Some people like yoga or Tai chi to help them cope with life’s trials and tribulations.

Resting in a quiet, dark place can enable the body and mind to relax and reduce symptoms in milder cases.

Some medications used for mental health problems like depression and anxiety can also help limit the impact of migraine attacks so may have a dual role.

Regular exercise can help reduce stress and also the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. Although, in some people exercise can trigger an attack so build up slowly.

There are various apps , websites that available on both iOS and Android app stores that can help with stress reduction.

Whichever technique helps make sure you keep a migraine diary.


Useful Links

Here are some of the websites for more information on stress management and coping techniques.


  1. Mental Health Foundation
  2. MIND
  3. NHS – Understanding Stress


For help with your migraines and the stress they cause, please contact us at the National Migraine Centre to see one of our experienced headache specialist doctors.