Stress resulting from frequent migraine headaches may contribute to the development of medical and psychological comorbidities that can result in an ugly cycle of more migraines, according to a study
in the Journal of Pain Research.
Migraines are undeniably disabling, with a majority of patients reporting significant impairments to work and leisure activities as well as maintaining relationships. The condition is already complicated by multiple and varied symptoms. Pharmacologic treatments for migraine are plenty, but they often come with significant side effects. Nonpharmacologic approaches, which can include behavioral therapy and relaxation therapy, are often reported as unsatisfactory by migraineurs. Both stress and anxiety levels are higher among migraineurs when compared with healthy controls. The idea that migraine stress could bring more migraines is a daunting notion.
The study was an attempt to better understand the relationship between stress, treatment patterns and satisfaction, and comorbid disorders in a large online sample of migraineurs. Participants were recruited from a well-known online migraine headache resource, and 2,632 completed the survey. The sample was 92.8% female and nearly half of the sample (47.8%) was aged 40 to 54 years, which is demographically similar to national rates for migraineurs. The majority of the sample (75.9%) had experienced their migraine symptoms for more than 10 years and 68.3% was diagnosed with chronic migraine.
Disorders related to stress, such as depression (P<0.01) and anxiety (P<0.01), were also positively correlated with the measured stress resulting from migraines. Of those who were able to identify a trigger for their migraines, 76.7% identified stress as a trigger.
According to the study authors, “Previous research has treated the stress resulting from migraines as a purely affective or psychological experience on the part of migraineurs; however, our research indicates that migraine-associated stress negatively impacts social and professional areas even more strongly than psychological states.”
Findings from the study revealed that despite the fact that the vast majority of the participants sought the care of a physician for their migraine headaches, only a subset of these participants continued their treatment and an even smaller proportion were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their treatment. “Similar to previous studies, the current study found that migraineurs often attempt many treatments, but are discouraged by factors such as cost, side effects, and efficacy,” the study authors explained.
The researchers conclude that migraine–associated stress must be understood as a multi-dimensional experience with broader impacts of stress on an individual.