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Diseases & Conditions

Stress and Headaches

It’s common that people attribute headaches to stress, but there’s no official headache classification of "stress headaches." However, stress certainly plays a role in making any headache worse.

Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers of migraine headache. Migraine sufferers are generally found to be more emotionally responsive and more highly effected by stressful events. During stressful events, certain chemicals in the brain are released to combat the situation (known as the "flight or fight" response). The release of these chemicals can provoke vascular changes that can cause migraines. Repressed emotions surrounding stress — such as anxiety, worry, excitement, and fatigue — can increase muscle tension, and dilated blood vessels can intensify the severity of migraine.

Stress is also an important factor in tension headache. Tension headache can either be episodic or chronic. Episodic tension headache is usually triggered by an isolated stressful situation or a build-up of stress. It can generally be treated by over-the-counter analgesics. Daily stress, such as from a high pressured job, can lead to chronic tension headache. Treatment for chronic tension headache usually involves stress management, counseling, biofeedback, and possibly the use of anti-depressant or anxiety reducing medicines.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/1/2012...#9646