Whether a result of our work, home or social lives, all of us go through stressful periods. Now, new research has linked high stress levels to increased occurrence of headaches – an association that has long been suspected.

The study findings are due to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, in April.

The research team, including Dr. Sara H. Schramm of University Hospital at the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany, analyzed 5,159 people between the ages of 21 and 71 years old.

For 2 years, all participants were questioned about their headaches and stress levels four times each year. They were asked to report the number of headaches they had each month and to rate their stress levels on a scale of 0 to 100.

Over the 2-year period, 31% of participants reported a tension-type headache, 14% had migraine, 11% suffered a tension-type headache combined with migraine, while 17% reported a non-classified headache.

Participants who had a tension headache reported their stress levels at an average of 52 out of 100. Those who experienced migraine had average stress levels of 62 out of 100, while those with combined migraine and tension-type headaches reported average stress levels of 59 out of 100.

The researchers found that for each headache type, the more stress a person experienced, the more headaches they had each month.

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Researchers say high stress levels can increase the frequency of headaches.

In detail, participants who experienced tension headaches had a 6.3% increase in the number of headaches each month for every increase of 10 points on the stress scale.

Migraine sufferers had a 4.3% rise in the number of headaches each month for every 10-point stress increase, while those with combined migraine and tension-type headaches demonstrated a 4% increase in headache frequency each month.

The researchers note that the results accounted for other factors that could impact headache frequency, including smoking, drinking and regular use of headache medication.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that 47% of the adult population have experienced a headache within the last year.

Dr. Schramm says the study findings show that stress is a common cause of headaches, and patients who suffer frequent headaches should adopt stress management strategies with help from their doctor.

She adds:

The results add weight to the concept that stress can be a factor contributing to the onset of headache disorders, that it accelerates the progression to chronic headache, exacerbates headache episodes, and that the headache experience itself can serve as a stressor.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that stress can make the brain more susceptible to mental illness.