WELLNESS
02/20/2014 08:52 am ET

Stress Linked With Headaches

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It's important for everyone to manage stress for the sake of their health and happiness, but a new study shows it could be especially important for people who get headaches.

Researchers from the University Hospital of University Duisburg-Essen in Germany found an association between higher stress levels and an increased number of tension-type headaches and migraine headaches.

"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," study researcher Dr. Sara H. Schramm, M.D., said in a statement.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be considered preliminary.

For the study, researchers surveyed 5,159 people between ages 21 and 71 about their stress levels and headaches over two years. They were surveyed four times a year, and were asked to provide information on how many headaches they experienced a month.

Among the study participants, tension-type headaches were the most common, experienced by 31 percent of the participants. Fourteen percent reported experiencing migraines, 11 percent reported experiencing migraine combined with tension-type headaches, and 17 percent reported experiencing headaches but did not specify what kind.

People who experienced tension-type headaches had average stress levels of 52 out of 100, while those who experienced migraine headaches had average stress levels of 62 out of 100. People with migraines and tension-type headaches had average stress levels of 59 out of 100.

After taking into account other potential factors, such as drinking and headache drug use, researchers found an association between stress and frequency of headaches for all three categories.

With tension-type headaches, the number of headache days per month increased 6.3 percent for each additional 10 points on the stress scale. With migraine headaches, the number of headache days per month increased 4.3 percent for each additional 10 stress scale points, and with migraine and tension-type headaches, the number of headache days per month increased 4 percent for each additional 10 stress scale points.

Of course, tension-type headaches and migraines aren't the only kinds of headaches out there. Check out Health.com's piece here on the 14 different kinds of headaches (with advice on treating them), and also read our piece here on figuring out what kind of headache you're having.

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