Can Stress Cause Migraines?

Can Stress Cause Migraines?

Roughly 30 million Americans suffer from migraines, severe headaches often accompanied by nausea, light sensitivity, and visual disturbances, like tunnel vision. If you’re one of those 30 million, you know how important it is to find solutions to help you manage your symptoms and, ideally, reduce the frequency of your headaches.

At Primary Care Associates, we know that migraines affect people in different ways — and that means that a treatment that works for one person may provide little or no benefit to someone else. 

Our team uses a combination of migraine therapies to help patients at our practices in Frederick and Clarksburg, Maryland, take control of their migraines. That includes helping them learn to manage one of the most significant factors that drive migraines: stress. Here’s how these two issues are linked.

Migraine basics

Migraines can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and the symptoms can vary, too, sometimes becoming so debilitating they interfere with daily routines. 

Researchers aren’t completely sure what causes migraines, but they know that pain and other symptoms occur in response to nerve and circulation stimuli. Because migraines tend to run in families, there’s a good chance your genes may also play a role.

Many people experience migraines in “stages.” Researchers have identified four unique stages, although not every person will go through all these stages when they have a migraine.


This early phase typically happens hours before the migraine and can include symptoms like:

Keeping track of these symptoms, if you have them, can help your doctor determine if what you’re having is a migraine or perhaps another type of headache, like a tension headache.


The aura phase includes symptoms like:

Only about one out of every 3 or 4 people with migraines also experience auras.

Attack or headache phase

Migraine headaches usually start above or around the eyes and typically happen on one side of your head (although both sides can be involved). Most headaches cause a throbbing sensation that may worsen with movement or activity.

Sometimes, headaches are accompanied by nausea or vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.


Postdrome happens after the migraine subsides and can last for a day. Symptoms include:

Some people have occasional “bursts” of head pain during this phase.

The link between stress and migraines

While scientists are still learning about the underlying physiological causes of migraine symptoms, what they do know is that external stimuli often trigger migraines. One of the most common triggers is stress. 80% of migraine sufferers list stress as a significant migraine trigger.

Interestingly, while major events like changing a job or moving can trigger migraines, it’s typically the everyday stresses that follow us through our daily lives that are more likely to cause symptoms. People who have migraines are also more likely to have anxiety disorders, raising stress levels.

On top of all that, when you’re stressed, you don’t sleep as well, and you probably don’t pay as much attention to healthy eating, either. Lack of sleep and unhealthy foods are also common migraine triggers — which means managing stress and the migraines they cause can be especially complicated without a doctor’s care.

Our team uses a comprehensive approach to migraine care, focusing on the causes of migraines and their symptoms, tailoring every treatment plan to help each patient find the right solution. For most people, that means combining medication with lifestyle changes and, often, therapy aimed at stress reduction and other healthy behaviors.

Manage your migraines successfully

Migraines aren’t your average headache, and that means you need more than average care to keep them under control. The team at Primary Care Associates delivers patient-centered migraine care tailored to your underlying health issues, your lifestyle, and of course, your unique triggers to help alleviate symptoms, reduce headache frequency, and even stop headaches in their tracks. 

To learn how our team can help you manage your migraines safely and effectively, book an appointment online or over the phone today.

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