There are a variety of triggers for the millions of migraine sufferers in the world but stress is one of the biggest.
According to the American Headache Society, 80% of migraine sufferers report that stress is a trigger. And the American Migraine Foundation reports that between 50 and 70% of migraine sufferers have “a significant association between their daily stress level and their daily migraine activity.”
Right now, there are plenty of reasons to be more stressed than usual as we continue to shelter in place and await the end of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. That, and the many ancillary issues that come with it, can certainly increase not just stress, but other interconnected triggers for migraines, making them more frequent.
To get a better understanding of how the current situation could be negatively impacting migraine sufferers and how they can better manage those triggers during this tough time, we spoke with neurologist Emad Estemalik, MD.
Understanding the triggers
“We know there are a lot of variables and factors that play a role in terms of either patients having a higher frequency or even a more specific or more severe migraines,” says Dr. Estemalik. Environmental factors, weather changes and even certain diet changes can all play a role.
But stress can have magnifying effects on the migraines that sufferers experience. According to Dr. Estemalik, stress can aggravate the frequency at which migraines occur. “If someone gets three to five headache days a month, under more stress like we’re living with right now, that can go up to 10 to 15 days a month,” he says.
Stress can also induce other physiologic mechanisms, Dr. Estemalik says, like sleep issues, certain mood symptoms, depression and anxiety. “It’s multiple factors,” he says. “Headaches, stress, depression, anxiety and sleep, they’re all interrelated.”
For instance, times of increased stress can magnify anxiety symptoms. “You find yourself unable to concentrate and your mind is racing all over the place,” he says. “You feel other anxiety symptoms and you have more worry and fear than usual and it puts you in a vicious cycle with increased stress levels and headaches, as well.”