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How can stress cause headaches?

Many things can cause headaches. It is felt that stress overall can make one more vulnerable to getting a headache. High levels of stress can make other triggers for a headache more potent. There are some great studies that show that some relaxation techniques can reduce the number and duration of migraines.
Dr. Marni Feuerman, LCSW, MFT
Marriage & Family Therapy

There are three different types of headaches, two of which are not caused primarily by stress, and one that may be:

  • Migraine Headaches: Headaches associated with migraines can be severe and even debilitating, and can last from 4 to 72 hours. These headaches are usually on one side of the head (unilateral), and worsen with daily activities like walking around. There can be nausea or sensitivity to light and sound involved, and sometimes an aura. Some experts state that stress is not a migraine trigger, other headache expert clarify that statement by suggesting that stress alone may not trigger migraines but it does make sufferers more susceptible to other migraine triggers. So, in a way, stress increases migraines, but is not considered a direct cause.

 

  • Secondary Headaches: This is the umbrella under which fall all headaches that are caused by more serious conditions such as brain tumors and strokes. They are also not directly caused by stress. Although, in the same way that stress makes people more susceptible to illness, and those illnesses can cause headaches, stress is indirectly related to secondary headaches.

 

  • Tension Headaches: These headaches, also called “stress headaches”, are experienced periodically by more than one-third of adults. They involve both sides of the head and generally feel tightness in the forehead or back of the neck. They’re not generally debilitating; people with tension headaches can normally go about their regular activities.  These headaches are thought to be directly caused by stress.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.