Pain Management

"Relaxation" May Not Help Migraines

Relaxation is usually a good thing, but perhaps not when it comes to migraine, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Montefiore Headache Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that migraine sufferers who experienced reduced stress from one day to the next are at significantly greater risk of migraine onset on the subsequent day.

Although stress has often been believed to be a common trigger of headaches, the researchers found that relaxation following the heighted stress was an even more significant trigger.

The findings were published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For their study, the investigators devised a three month electronic daily diary that yielded 2,011 records and 110 migraine attacks in 17 participants. Each day, the participants recorded information about migraine attacks, stress and migraine triggers such as hours of sleep, the menstrual cycle and the quality of alcohol consumed.

“This study demonstrates a striking association between reduction in perceived stress and the occurrence of migraine headaches,” said study lead author Richard Lipton, M.D., director, Montefiore Headache Center, professor and vice chair of neurology and the Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology, Einstein. “Results were strongest during the first six hours where decline in stress was associated with a nearly five-fold increased risk of migraine onset. The hormone cortisol, which rises during times of stress and reduces pain, may contribute to the triggering of headache during periods of relaxation.”

The investigators said that their finding might be due to a failure to manage stress during the first migraine. As a result, the stress could build up even during the following period of relaxation, making way for the second migraine.

“This study highlights the importance of stress management and healthy lifestyle habits for people who live with migraine,” said Dawn Buse, Ph.D., director, Behavioral Medicine, Montefiore Headache Center, associate professor, Clinical Neurology, Einstein, and study co-author. “It is important for people to be aware of rising stress levels and attempt to relax during periods of stress rather than allowing a major build up to occur. This could include exercising or attending a yoga class or may be as simple as taking a walk or focusing on one’s breath for a few minutes.”

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