Stress, tiredness increase risk of sex headaches

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Many people suffer from a form of headache known as the coital or sex headache that impairs their ability to enjoy sexual relationships and undermines their relationships with their spouses or partners.

That’s the word from Dr Elliot Shevel, medical director at The Headache Clinic and Health24's Headache Expert. He says that coital headaches come in two forms, the most common of which is the benign coital headache. Benign coital headaches occur on a regular basis during or after sex, and are not life-threatening despite the severe discomfort they may cause.

Dangerous headaches

The rare, but more dangerous “new onset” headache during sex may indicate a serious problem as it may be caused by a brain haemorrhage. Many patients describe the pain (similar to a sharp blow to the head) as the worst headache they have experienced. Patients should seek urgent medical treatment if they believe they have been hit by this form of headache.

In most cases, sex headaches are thought to be caused by an increase in blood pressure and muscle tension during sexual activity, says Dr Shevel. The sex headache is a rare example of a headache form that is more common in men than among women. It occurs in men between the ages of 18 and 60. Factors that may put a person at greater risk of coital headaches include stress, tiredness and a history of headaches.

Women who are over 40, have recently started an exercise programme or already suffer from migraines or tension headaches are more likely to have coital headaches than most other women. The six weeks immediately after childbirth is also a high-risk time for coital headaches among women.

Says Dr Shevel: “The good news is that benign coital headaches are usually easy to treat. Some patients report that they can avoid some headache attacks by slowing down their sexual activity and increasing their excitement more gradually. Switching to a less active position or relaxing after sex also often help.”

Sex headaches often disappear when the patient is under less stress in his or her day-to-day life.

In some cases, and especially among women, sex headaches may reflect the sufferer’s anxiety about her relationship with her partner. In this case, she and her partner should seek relationship counselling.

Information supplied by The Headache Centre (tel. 0861 678).

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