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Stress and Anxiety Can Cause Tension and Migraine Headaches

By HERWriter
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Oh, my aching head! We all get headaches, and we all know how much fun they are.

June 6-12 is National Headache Awareness Week, according to the National Headache Foundation (NHF).

In order to promote awareness, it’s important to make a distinction that not all headaches are the same. In fact, there are seven different types, according to the NHF Web site. These include tension-type, migraine, cluster, hormone, sinus, organic and rebound headaches.

Cluster headaches are considered one of the worst types, according to NHF, with severe pain that is generally on one side of the head. They can last weeks to months and then disappear for a period of time, only to come back. People who get this type of headache have on average four headaches a day during the cluster headache series. Stress is not really considered a trigger of this type of headache, since it is caused by a swelling of the blood vessel. This swelling can be caused by or worsened by smoking and drinking alcohol.

Although not a cause of cluster headaches, stress is a major cause of other types of headaches, and those with anxiety disorders also generally have headaches, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA).

Headaches associated with stress and anxiety disorders are tension and migraine headaches. For example, the ADAA said that “migraines and chronic daily headaches are common in people who suffer from anxiety disorders.”

Chronic tension headaches happen nearly every day and are caused by “temporary stress, anxiety, fatigue or anger,” according to NHF. Depression can also be a cause. They are the same as episodic tension headaches, except episodic tension headaches happen randomly.

Tension headaches are common, and both types are “characterized as dull, aching and non-pulsating pain and affect both sides of the head,” according to the NHF. They can be accompanied by sleep problems, which makes sense because most people would find it difficult to sleep in a constant tense and stressed state, with a headache to boot. These sleep problems (or even just a change in sleep patterns) can then lead to more tension headaches or sometimes migraines.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there is “pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck, usually associated with muscle tightness in these areas.” This muscle tightness can be caused by stress and anxiety.

Stress, depression and anxiety are also causes of migraines. Further delving into stress, “repressed emotions can also precipitate migraine headaches, and the muscle tension often brought on by stressful situations can add to the severity of the headache,” according to the NHF.

If the migraines are determined to be caused by any of the previous three triggers, then those triggers can possibly be treated to relieve the migraines.

Migraines are different from tension headaches because the pain is pulsating or throbbing and is usually only found on one side of the head, according to the NHF.

There is also "nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light," according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

People can have coexisting migraine and tension-type headaches as well.


Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Ok for anonymous you don't know what you are talking about. I have headaches due to anxiety. Had several doctors tell me so. I still freak out cause of them. My anxiety is just getting worse. These people are just being helpful there is no reason to be rude to them.

September 10, 2012 - 4:43pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

You probably dont get on here and wont see this, but you are absolutely right. The only time in my life that i ever had a migraine was shortly after i was diagnosed with anxiety and i was extremely stressed out about it. I think this is a good article and the people that wrote it wouldnt have put migraines are caused by stress and anxiety unless they had the research to back it up. My mom has gotten severe migraines for years and had to step down from a position because the stress of it was causing her to have more of them. Stress and anxiety do cause migraines even if some people dont believe they do.

February 12, 2013 - 5:57pm
EmpowHER Guest

This is absolutely NOT true. Stress does not trigger migraines! It is a disease with the headache as a symptom ONLY. Migraine pain is caused by vasodilation in the cranial blood vessels (expansion of the blood vessels), while headache pain is caused by vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels). Get your facts straight! Migraine sufferers have enough myths to fight. If your headache is caused by stress it is NOT a migraine. http://www.migraines.org/myth/mythreal.htm

August 5, 2010 - 5:36am

I enjoyed your article - and thanks for putting it in plain English - about the reasons for migraines. I was wondering if you saw anything in your research about particular foods causing migraines?

May 5, 2010 - 7:41am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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