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Stress Lets Up and Migraine

Stress is frequently thought to be a migraine trigger, but now research indicates that stress might contribute in a surprising way. In a recent study, after a period of heightened stress, people living with migraine were at an increased risk of an attack when the stress decreased.

While the level of stress was not associated with migraine, the authors said, a decline in stress from one day to the next was linked with an increased likelihood of migraine onset over the next 18 hours.

“This study demonstrates a striking association between reduction in perceived stress and the occurrence of migraine headaches,” said study co-author Richard Lipton, MD, of the Montefiore Headache Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, in Bronx, NY. “Results were strongest during the first 6 hours, where decline in stress was associated with a nearly 5-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 researchers conducted a 3-month study about migraine triggers with 17 migraine patients who kept daily diaries about their migraines, stress, and a variety of other information.

Dawn Buse, Ph.D., also of the Montefiore Headache Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, noted that the findings provide important information regarding self-care for migraineurs.

“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,” she said. “This could include exercising or attending a yoga class or maybe as simple as taking a walk or focusing on one’s breath for a few minutes.”

The study appeared online in the journal Neurology.

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