In a surprising twist on how stress may affect migraine risk, new research suggests that patients who are able to lower their stress levels may end up inadvertently boosting their immediate risk for a migraine attack.
The study, led by Dr Richard Lipton, director of the Montefiore Headache Centre and vice chair of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City, was published in the journal Neurology.
This study demonstrates a striking association between reduction in perceived stress and the occurrence of migraine headaches," Lipton said in a college news release.
Fivefold increase in migraine risk
Though the authors noted that stress has long been seen as a trigger of headaches, the new study found that when migraine sufferers are able to relax following a bout of elevated stress, the stress decline itself may boost migraine risk.
During the first six-hour period in which high stress starts to dissipate, the risk for experiencing a migraine increases fivefold, the researchers found.
Lipton and his colleagues theorise that something about the rise and fall in levels of the stress hormone cortisol may have something to do with the elevated risk as stress is reduced.
Migraines affect roughly 38 million Americans, according to the news release. Lipton's investigation tracked 17 migraine patients who over a three-month period kept diaries that noted their stress levels and stress-reduction experiences, as well as sleep patterns, dietary habits and emotional state of mind
Attend a yoga class
"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," study co-author Dawn Buse, director of behavioural medicine at Montefiore Headache Centre, and an associate professor of clinical neurology at Einstein, said in the news release.
"This could include exercising or attending a yoga class or may be as simple as taking a walk or focusing on one's breath for a few minutes," she explained.
Although the study found an association between a drop in stress levels and migraine attacks, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.