For the study, 5,159 people age 21 to 71 in the general population were surveyed about their stress levels and headaches four times a year for two years. Participants stated how many headaches they had per month and rated their stress level on a scale of zero to 100, according to a press release from the American Academy of Neurology.
For each type of headache, an increase in stress was associated with an increase in the number of headaches per month. The results were adjusted to account for factors that could affect the number of headaches, such as drinking, smoking and frequent use of headache drugs.
Among the results:
• 31 percent of participants had tension-type headache and rated their stress at an average of 52 out of 100. For those with tension headache, an increase of 10 points on the stress scale was associated with a 6.3-percent increase in the number of headache days per month.
• 14 percent of participants had migraine and rated their stress at an average of 62 out of 100. For migraine, an increase of 10 points on the stress scale was associated with a 4.3-percent increase in the number of headache days per month.
• 11 percent of participants had migraine combined with tension-type headache and rated their stress at an average of 59 out of 100. For migraine combined with tension, an increase of 10 points on the stress scale was associated with a 4-percent increase in the number of headache days per month.
• 17 percent of participants had unclassified headache type and their stress was not rated.
“These results show that [stress] is a problem for everyone who suffers from headaches and emphasize the importance of stress-management approaches for people with migraine and those who treat them,” said study author Sara H. Schramm, M.D., of University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen in Germany.
“The results add weight to the concept that stress can be a factor contributing to the onset of headache disorders, that it accelerates the progression to chronic headache, exacerbates headache episodes, and that the headache experience itself can serve as a stressor.”