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The Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) is dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of Canadians by empowering individuals with scientifically grounded information on the effects of stress on the brain and body.
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When you feel stressed, do you sometimes experience unbearable headaches? What is the cause of this phenomenon? Is it possible that the hormones we secrete in stressful situations induce migraine?

A recent study in Germany conducted at the University of Duisburg-Essen shows that daily stress may indeed contribute to the onset and the severity of headaches. Researchers surveyed 5,159 people between 21 and 71 years of age, 4 times a day for 2 years about their subjective stress and their headaches. For each measurement taken, participants were asked to indicate the number of headaches they experienced during the last month and their level of perceived stress on a scale of 0 to 100.

Results show that an increase in subjective stress is accompanied by an increase in the number of headaches, migraines or any other type of headaches. In addition, it seems that an increase in subjective stress is accompanied by an increase in the severity of headaches experienced.

When we talk about subjective stress, we refer to the intensity of stress that is believed to be felt at a given moment, and not an absolute measure of stress as provided by hormone samples. It is, therefore, important to note that the results of the study are based on a measure of stress that turns out to be rather simplistic. As such, it would be necessary to replicate these data using physiological measures – for example, by measuring stress hormones – to confirm that stress hormones are indeed responsible for this phenomenon.

Nevertheless, these results are still very interesting and confirm part of the reason why we sometimes have more headaches during periods of stress!