Headaches become more frequent with increased stress

We all know that modern living can be stressful and new research has now confirmed the long suspected link between high stress levels and increased frequency of headaches.

Scientists from the University Hospital at the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany analysed 5,159 people between the ages of 21 and 71 years old. Over a period of two years the participants in the study were questioned about the frequency of their headaches and levels of stress. They were asked to report the number of headaches they had each month and to rate their stress levels on a scale of 0 to 100.

During the two years 31% of participants reported a tension-type headache, 14% had migraine, 11% suffered a tension-type headache combined with migraine and 17% reported a non-classified headache.

Participants who had a tension headache reported their stress levels at an average of 52 out of 100. Those who experienced migraine had average stress levels of 62 out of 100, while those with combined migraine and tension-type headaches reported average stress levels of 59 out of 100.

The study showed that with each headache type, the more stress a person experienced, the more headaches they had each month. In particular, participants who experienced tension headaches had a 6.3% increase in the number of headaches each month for every increase of 10 points on the stress scale.

Migraine sufferers had a 4.3% rise in the number of headaches each month for every 10-point stress increase, while those with combined migraine and tension-type headaches demonstrated a 4% increase in headache frequency each month. In addition, the results accounted for other factors that could impact headache frequency, including smoking, drinking and regular use of headache medication.

Dr Sara Schramm, who was one of the study authors said: “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."

She says that patients who suffer frequent headaches should adopt stress management strategies with help from their doctor.

Consultant Neurologist Dr Eli Silber agrees with this advice, saying,“It is important for anyone who does suffer from repeated headaches to receive an appropriate response from their doctor.”

The results of the research are due to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in April.


A disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. Full medical glossary
A severe headache, often lasting 4 -72 hours and accompanied by visual disturbances, nausea and vomiting. Full medical glossary
Relating to injury or concern. Full medical glossary
A type of headache due to tightness of the muscles of the neck and scalp when someone feels stressed. Full medical glossary
A specialist in the treatment of diseases of the urinary tract, the channels that carry urine from the kidneys to the outside of the body. Full medical glossary