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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • RockyMtnGuy
    3 years ago

    Headache and lifestyle choices. Before I retired, I suffered from relaxation migraines. Every time I relaxed, I would get a migraine. Well, the solution to not having migraines was to stay tense and work hard all the time. What kind of lifestyle is that? I mean, I worked as hard as I could and made more money than I really needed, but eventually you have to retire and then you are in trouble. So now I am working on other solutions that don’t require never relaxing.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi RockyMtnGuy! If you really loved what you did before retiring, perhaps you could reach out to your local community college as a mentor/tutor in your field. If not, retirement is a great time to explore other options. What kind of things have you found to keep you busy?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! We’re glad you’re here. -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • AudreyB
    7 years ago

    Each one of us has a different set of sensitivities. For me, lifestyle choices are related to my migraines, though it’s taken me 52 years (and I’m not done!) to figure out which ones. Alcohol was a clear factor early on and was easy to give up once I saw the relationship. It was harder figuring out that going to bed and waking at different times each day was a trigger and *much* harder to address it. It took a while to deduce that caffiene was as much of a curse as a cure. When I felt my only remaining triggers were hormones and barometric pressure, I tried giving up gluten. It worked well enough that I halved my nightly preventive. I had to get over the feeling that I’m obsessing about myself when I focus on identifying these sensitivities. I had to get over feeling a bit silly ordering cranberry juice in bars. I do what works for my headaches, and I feel much better for it.

  • 7 years ago

    There are so many potential triggers that I am not surprised there are no consistent results. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch my lifestyle, trigger, and mood management to reduce my suffering. I may not have control over how often I get a migraine, but I do have choices on how I respond. I learned long ago to stay away from MSG, artificial sugars, alcohol and stay hydrated (sure-fire triggers). There are things I can choose to do that will definitely send me into a migraine. These I try to avoid as much as possible. However, I still get way too many each month. Treating it early, using comfort measures, not trying to “work through” an attack, and using relaxation techniques help me stay calm and proactive through most of the attacks. Keeping up my hope and determination is a huge factor. I have to work hard to stay positive, especially during a long string of repeated attacks or failed preventives. I have a good support system to help with this or I would surely fail.

  • Linda Barham Nabors
    8 years ago

    I am so happy for those of you who can identify lifestyle choices that influence your migraines, but for me I can never see anything I do that is consistent with preventing or making a headache better. Mine seem to have a mind of their own and they take over my life. I deal with migraines and Fibr, o and each day is a never ending battle of trying to avoid triggers and trying to do what I need to do so I will stay on an even keel. There seems to be no consistency with my health and how I feel from day to day. I feel like I am on a roller coaster between the 2 diseases and am exhausted in trying to help myself. Yesterday was one of the best days I have had in weeks and today is one of the worst. Can never plan on anything. Life is truly a struggle.

  • Jennifer Holland
    8 years ago

    Lifestyle choices may be inconsistent across groups of individuals but I am sure we all make choices that consistently increase our personal likelihood of migraine. Skipping a meal, insufficient water intake and alcohol consumption always result in a migraine for me. I know that I must take responsibility for the things I can control…and rely on medications, physicians and luck for the rest of it.

  • Robin Melton
    8 years ago

    I know when I drink, I drink to fast because I will for sure get a migraine… They say smoking pot helps the pain? PLEASE, smoking pot helps no migraine pain, only helps with appetite and sleep. I actually agree with Krissy on the grains and dairy thing… I went on a meat fruit and veggie diet for one month and felt the best of my entire life….

  • Krissy Edge
    8 years ago

    Lifestyle definitely has an impact on migraines. I think noone wants to hear this but for me eliminating dairy and all grains has basically put an end to my migraines with aura and nausea.

  • Anne Miller
    8 years ago

    told if I drank my water and lost weight the migraines would drop away. lost the weight, and drink alot of water, the migraines have gotten worse.And they are handed down from my birth father.yuck.

  • Pam Young
    8 years ago

    I too have been told that my lifestyle choices are the cause of my migraines. Quit smoking, drinking, and eating so much they say but offer no solution to accomplish any of that. All the while, the migraines persist.

  • Charleen Fahey
    8 years ago

    You can do anything you set your mind to.

  • Susan Gusta Carrier
    8 years ago

    Why live?! LOL!

  • Jaylene Ancheta
    8 years ago

    I don’t believe that life style and migraines are related. I’ve been getting them for more than 30 yrs. I pretty much know my triggers, some of which don’t always trigger a migraine. There are times in my life (while being a Migraineur) that I just gave up on avoiding my triggers because it just pretty much doesn’t always work and I wanted to live my life. I’d been through periods of living a very unhealthy life because I just wanted to enjoy myself, no matter what the consequences and I didn’t trigger a migraine. Not even once. Then, there were times where I was very careful and watched my health strictly and I would be plagued with migraines. My Doctors I think have found me very interesting. They have no idea what is causing my migraines and have become aware that sometimes I do give up the battle. I drink, eat what I want, do what I want and I’m ok. Go like this for a while till a migraine hits and I decide to clean up, only to start getting them almost every day. This surprises them, I think.

  • Nealy Gissara
    8 years ago

    Same here…….. Prescription after prescription with no relief, they have actually increased.

  • Nancy Gissara Passwater
    8 years ago

    Nealy I have them too ,mine never go away some times I have to go to the hospital, to get relif, headaches or a migrain I have one or the other.I just learned to live with them.and that sucks .I have had them since I was a kid.

  • Lori Mueller
    8 years ago

    glad someone else said that. Ive went 3 yrs with nothing helping and my dr says cant figure it out must be psychological. Not that I had sever head trama if a car wreck 3 yrs ago and didn’t even know who I was for 4 weeks. But I have sever side affects to just about all meds. so no help. and I have tried every home remedy here is suggested. uggggg frustrated in MO!

  • April Kenney
    8 years ago

    Lori ~ I too was in a car accident 3 years ago and have suffered from head trama, sever head pain, vomiting, dizzy and screeching in my ears. I have been on medication that has helped out with the vomiting and dizzyness. I Have too sleep as much as possible,go to bed the same time, eat the same food almost the same times, NO alcohol and “slap a smile” when I get migranine,that happens about every week to 10 days. It is very frustrating~

  • Bonni Currieri Lamey
    8 years ago

    18 years and no med has ever helped. I have learned attitude is everything. Get up every day, slap a smile on your dace and out one foot in front of the other in spite of the pain. Find something to keep your mind busy, That and biofeedback has really helped me cope. Good luck. I feel for you.

  • Michelle Oelfke Buck
    8 years ago

    Oh my doctors are all convinced my migraines are caused by lifestyle choices or psychological. That is because they have not been able to find a physical cause in 20 years. No obvious cause…blame the patient.

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