Headache and Lifestyle Choices—Are They Related?

It is well known that lifestyle choices are often considered as potential areas of improvement when it comes to people evaluating their own health. For patients with migraine, the influence of certain behaviors or migraine triggers such as sleep, diet, smoking, alcohol consumption and others, on the onset and frequency of headaches has long been a topic of discussion and evaluation. However, studies of these behaviors in relation to migraine have not often been consistent and it has been difficult to actually prove that lifestyle and headache symptoms are definitively related. In a recent study, researchers in Germany analyzed three headache studies that were conducted in different regions of the country. Information on headaches was assessed in identical ways in all three studies by standardized face to face interviews with a combined total of over 7000 study participants.

Lifestyle Factors Evaluated

In this particular evaluation, the main lifestyle choices that were studied included smoking status, consumption of alcohol (average daily alcohol intake), and physical activity (hours per week). After calculating the body mass index (BMI) for each person, this measurement was combined with the other lifestyle factors and assigned a health score, with a higher score indicating a more healthy set of behaviors. Headache information was obtained in the form of a standard questionnaire and included information on how often headaches were occurring, the characteristics of the headache and how severe they were. Headaches were classified as 1 of 4 sub-types; complete migraine, probable migraine, complete tension-type headache and probable tension-type headache. Additional information that was gathered included information on other disease history including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Medication use was not evaluated in this study.

Influence of Lifestyle on Headache — Difficult to Assess

The impact on general health of a healthy diet, not smoking and moderate alcohol consumption cannot be overestimated. With respect to migraine and tension-type headache however, this particular study failed to definitively assign a particular increased risk to these lifestyle choices. With regard to BMI and smoking, the results were inconsistent across all types of headaches and no pattern emerged in terms of headache prevalence. Routine exercise had a somewhat modest positive impact on tension-type headache but for migraine, the results were also inconsistent. Above average alcohol consumption was moderately associated with lessening the risk of migraine and tension-type headache but results were unclear as to the relationship between alcohol and headache. As for the health index, a combined measurement of the risk factors that were studied, this too could not be found to have an impact on the occurrence, frequency or severity of headache.

As lifestyle factors continue to be studied and evaluated in relation to migraine headaches, it is important that individuals suffering from migraine identify and use a migraine journal to track their own symptoms in relation to possible triggers that might be contributing to their headache symptoms. For now, however, a proven cause and effect relationship among large groups of people remains elusive.

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