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Head Case: Stress Linked to Headache Frequency

The more stressed out you are, the more frequent your headaches, according to a new report.

Image::If you're stressed out, headaches may follow, new research suggests.|||[object Object]
If you're stressed out, headaches may follow, new research suggests. Getty Images file / 2010 Getty Images

German researchers have confirmed what headache sufferers have long suspected: The more stressed out you are, the more frequent your headaches.

For being so common, the exact mechanisms behind headaches can be somewhat mysterious. While the new data can only suggest an association with stress, "I would think that stress 'triggers' headache," one of the researchers, Dr. Zaza Katsarava of University Hospital, University of Duisburg-Essen, told NBC News.

The study used data from the German Headache Consortium Study of 5,159 people age 21-71. These people answered questionnaires every three months from 2010 to 2012 about headache type and frequency and used a visual 100-point scale to state how much stress they experienced.

After adjusting for age, sex, drinking habits, smoking and so on, the data was clear. For those who reported "tension" headaches, each 10 point increase in stress was associated with a 6.3 percent increase in the number of days each month they suffered through a headache.

Migraine and mixed tension-migraine sufferers also showed increases with stress, 4.3 and 4 percent respectively, though Katsarava cautioned that because headache type was self-reported, some people who said they had migraines might have had tension headaches.

Those results jibe with other studies, like one from Ohio's Xavier University released last spring in which researchers from the business school found that headache-related hospital admission increased significantly during the 2008-2009 recession.

Alleviating stress can be especially important for people who experience headaches, Katsarava said, because stress can create a vicious cycle. "Stress triggers headache, headache triggers stress. Because people are disabled, they can not manage their life and their duties."

Headache treatment, she argued, should be include medical, psychological and behavioral approaches.

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