Does Stress Cause Migraines?

By Migraines

Check out M.A.G.N.U.M. at You’ll find a ton of information at this site. I like its emphasis on the stress issue; they don’t believe it causes migraines. Too many psychologists and, therefore, people who read psychology and even medical blurbs find it easy to blame stress as the cause of migraines. If you read anything on stress, you’ll discover pundits saying it causes 70 up to 90% of physical illnesses. Not true, but you can understand why it’s easy to say—no one can disprove that hypothesis. Plus, many of us are under stress. I just don’t like that simple explanation.

The M.A.G.N.U.M. folks take a hard stance against the stress hypothesis, and they aren’t alone. They say it is neurological and not psychological. I agree with most of that view, but I’ve had migraines I’m convinced stress was the culprit. I had a migraine on April 15 one year—interesting timing, right? It was just after I finished my taxes (by hand back then) and was driving to the post office. A year later, I had another migraine after filling out my tax form. Nowadays, I use a computer program, so there’s much less stress and no headache.

Could stress have caused them? I believe it did in those two cases, and here’s why. When you’re under stress, your biological system is in the famous “fight or flight” mode. Your sympathetic nervous system is in full gear. Your adrenalin is flowing which constricts the blood vessels. Once the stress is over, your parasympathetic system relaxes both you and your blood vessels causing dilation.

Dilated blood vessels used to be a favorite theory regarding migraines—your blood vessels dilate, press against your nerves, and a migraine is your reward. It’s not a popular theory anymore in most circles, but it would fit with why I got migraines in tax season. I agree with M.A.G.N.U.M. that stress is an inadequate explanation, but I allow for some stress-induced migraines. I don’t think we should overdo the hypothesis. You could spend a bunch of money and time in therapy trying to be less stressed. If that works, fine; if it doesn’t, it’s costly.

But most of my migraines have no stress factor or anything else I can relate to them. They come out of nowhere. Like many sufferers, I’ve tried to connect food, the weather, sleep, exercise or the lack thereof, and water consumption to them. I’ve come up with nothing. Okay—stress twice. If you read blogs, you’ll discover many migraineurs who thought it was food, or whatever, only to learn they were incorrect about cause-effect and then look for something else. Most of us have been there. Hypotheses abound; perhaps stress causes migraines in some but not others. Gluten-free will help one person but not another. Magnesium is effective for some while riboflavin works for others.

I’m convinced there will be a cure—perhaps by altering genes. At my age, the only jeans I’ll get altered are blue. But, I believe there’s hope for you young folks. Hang in there. In the meantime…

My treatment for a migraine is effective, but only for a “migraine with aura,” and that’s for those of you who have the zigzagged line type of aura. Sign up and we’ll put you on our mailing list.