How to know if you have a stress migraine and how to get rid of it

Stress is not just mental. It can manifest itself physically and cause symptoms such as stomach upset or chest pain. For people who have frequent migraines, stress can trigger an attack.How to know if you have a stress migraine and how to get rid of it 

Since migraines come back, it’s important for people to know what sets them off so they can avoid them in the future.If stress is a trigger for someone, they may need to make changes in their lifestyle to try to relieve that stress.

Here’s what you need to know about stress migraines, as well as how to treat and prevent them.

Stress is a common trigger of migraine

Stress is an extremely common migraine trigger. According to the American Migraine Foundation, approximately 70% of people with migraines say that stress is a trigger for them.

Tanya Bilchik, a headache specialist at Yale Medicine, says that people who are more likely to get migraines and people with anxiety and mental health problems are most likely to have them.

Stress, whether it be long-term or short-term, can cause these migraines.Long-term stress can come from things like the economy or trying to balance work and family life, while short-term stress can come from something like a very stressful work project.

Although the precise cause of migraines is unknown, according to Bilchik, researchers think that changes in the levels of specific chemicals in the brain may be to blame.

It is believed that the chemical serotonin, in particular, is responsible for stress migraines. Serotonin is a hormone responsible for regulating mood, which includes anxiety levels. Low serotonin levels are usually associated with low mood and increased anxiety.

Cortisol is another hormone associated with stress. High stress results in high levels of cortisol. There is an inverse relationship between serotonin and cortisol, which means that cortisol can reduce the production of serotonin.

Low levels of serotonin are associated with migraines, so it makes sense that higher cortisol production due to stress and decreased serotonin levels result in a migraine.

In addition to stress itself, relaxation after a period of high stress is also a possible trigger for migraine. Bilchik says that this is known as the “disappointment” effect. The results of a small study in 2014 showed that the “disappointment” effect of relaxation after stress was more likely to trigger a migraine than acute stress itself.

Symptoms of stress-related migraines

The symptoms of a stress migraine are the same as those of any other migraine; however, you may first notice some other physical symptoms of stress, such as stomach upset, muscle tension, and fatigue. You can also feel mentally stressed, uncomfortable, or anxious.

Also, there are multiple stages of a migraine. The first stage is the prodrome, which, according to Bilchik, can begin a few days or a few hours before the migraine. Symptoms of the prodrome include:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Cravings
  • Difficulty concentrating

After the prodrome, Bilchik says that you can experience an aura, which usually involves visual disturbances. Signs of a migraine aura include:

  • Blind spots
  • See lines or geometric shapes.
  • see flashes of light.
  • experiencing numbness or tingling

After experiencing an aura, you may experience a complete migraine. Bilchik says that this can last from a couple of hours to 72 hours. She says that the symptoms include:

  • Threbbing headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sensitivity to light and sounds

Finally, after the migraine attack will come the postdrome, known colloquially as a migraine hangover. According to Bilchik, the following are symptoms of the postdromic phase:

  • Mild headache
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue

How to get rid of stress migraines

The methods to treat a stress migraine are the same as to treat any other migraine. Bilchik says that treatment options include:

  • Over-the-counter analgesics such as Advil, Motrin, Tylenol, or Excedrin
  • Prescription medications for migraine such as triptans, gepants, and ditans
  • Nausea medication: If you experience nausea and vomiting as a result of a migraine,

There are also treatments not related to migraine medications that can help you feel more comfortable. Bilchik recommends:

  • Being in a quiet room with reduced light and noise
  • Apply ice to the head and temples.
  • Increasing hydration

The best way to prevent stress migraines will depend on the frequency of your migraines. If you have more than three or four migraines a month and they do not respond to medications for acute migraine, Bilchik says that you may need long-term preventive medications, which are taken daily or monthly to reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of migraines.

She says that some examples of these are:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Beta blockers
  • Antidepressants
  • CGRP receiver antagonists
  • Botox

In addition, you should also address the trigger of stress migraines. Preventing high levels of stress can prevent migraines from happening in the first place.

In addition to trying to reduce your overall stress levels, Bilchik recommends:

  • Meditation
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Sleep seven to eight hours a night, with a constant hour to go to bed and wake up.

When should I see a doctor?

Even if you already have a known diagnosis of migraines, there are several cases in which you should consult a doctor.

Bilchik recommends consulting a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • increased frequency, duration, and intensity of migraine
  • A migraine that doesn’t go away
  • When your previously effective medication stops working,
  • when you are taking migraine medications more than once a week.
  • New migraine symptoms
  • Neurological symptoms with migraine


Stress, or relief from high stress, are common triggers of migraines. However, with the proper management of stress and migraines, you can feel better. Be sure to contact your doctor if you experience any of the warning signs that Bilchik mentioned so that you can experience some relief from your migraines.

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