Those with Migraine more Sensitive to Stress?

A recent study from Brazil asked the question – are those with migraine more sensitive to stress?  Is there a difference between those with migraine and aura, and those without aura?  And what about different types of stress?

Note, this is not asking whether or not stress is a true "trigger" of migraine – a question which is also debated.  This is simply a question about the "migraine brain", perhaps.  Are migrainuers different when it comes to stress – in other words, are their bodies or brains different in some way?

This study checked out two different types of stress using two tests.  One is the cold pressure test, a common test for pain and stress when a patient usually puts a hand in cold water.

The other test involved mental stress – using the Stroop test card, which has to do with maintaining attention over a period of time.

The stress was measured using cardiovascular measurements.

The first answer to the question was that there was no difference between those with aura and those without.  The second answer was – yes, migraineurs are more sensitive to stress – but only one type.

Can you guess which type?

There was no difference at all between migraine patients and the control group when it came to the cold pressure test.  However, migraineurs did show more of a reaction to mental stress.


Researchers aren’t sure, but they speculated on why this might be.  They say:  A distinct pattern of activation of the prefrontal cortex-periaqueductal gray matter circuit in migraine may explain a singular autonomic reactivity to mental stress in this disease.

In plain language please?  Well, basically it’s like this.  We know that people with migraine disease have different "activation patterns" in the brain – their brains simply react in different ways.  We have ideas why that is, such as genetic differences, but the details are still a mystery.

So the way the brain tends to react in migraineurs could likely explain why the different reactions to stress.  This has something to do with genetic and/or biological differences.

So though this doesn’t answer the question of whether or not mental stress is a migraine trigger, it does tell us that those with migraine disease may be more sensitive to it, generally.  It also gives us another clue about why the migraine brain works the way it does.

Read more about the study at Altered Cardiovascular Reactivity … in Migraine.

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