9th April 2019

New research finds that stress is causing high numbers of migraine attacks

On a weekly basis for many

New research that we recently conducted has revealed the extent to which stress and migraine are linked. A survey of over six hundred (633) people who get migraine found that nine out of ten (94%) had migraine attacks that were triggered by stress.

We are highlighting the link during April as it is Stress Awareness Month. We want people who have the condition to understand that stress is a key trigger for an attack.

Our research also found that, while high numbers of people with migraine identify stress as a trigger, there is a wide variance in the number of attacks that people had as a result of stress.

It found that, as a result of stress:

  • 38% of people had a migraine attack on a weekly basis
  • 30% of people had a migraine attack on a monthly basis
  • 26% of people had a migraine attack several times a year

Many are reducing and avoiding stress

Understanding the impact that stress has on a person’s migraine and trying to manage their stress can help them reduce the number of attacks that they have. This is underscored by:

  • 55% of those surveyed reporting that they believed that they had prevented migraine attacks by managing their stress levels

Asked how they managed their stress levels, many said that they meditated, did yoga, and practised mindfulness. Other people made significant life changes as a way to avoid stress that would trigger a migraine attack, including changing jobs and career.

It has a significant impact on the social life of Nick Cook, from Berkshire, who is in his early thirties and has chronic migraine. Stress is a major trigger for him and he has to avoid noisy and frenetic environments.

“I have to avoid stress in all forms and unfortunately it means avoiding some social circumstances. I find myself predicting the worst and wondering what I will do if I get an attack miles from home. And before I know it, I’ve talked myself out of leaving the house. My greatest comfort is to have a few friends around in my own home where, if an attack comes, I can take a pill and go to bed.”

While people are best placed to understand how to reduce their own stress, we recommend that people whose migraine are triggered by stress should:

  • Start a migraine diary to identify how often their migraine are triggered by stress and if there are any factors that combine with stress that lead to a migraine such as lack of sleep or alcohol use.
  • When they are stressed, they should try and keep to their daily routine as much as possible as the migraine brain doesn’t like change, and a change to routine may exacerbate the change that stress is already causing their brain.
  • Even if managing their stress levels is reducing the frequency of the migraine attacks that they are experiencing, they should still speak to a healthcare professional if they are not already. They can work with them on the best ways to effectively manage their migraine.
“While we know that stress is a key trigger for migraine, it was shocking to see how many people had an attack because of stress, and how frequently. It’s therefore crucial that anyone who is getting regular migraine understands the role that stress might be playing in triggering their attacks. As managing their stress is unlikely to end their migraine completely it could help reduce the frequency that they are experiencing them.” Susan Haydon, Manager of The Migraine Trust's information service