Sometimes, it seems that those of us with migraines and headaches just can’t win. Looking at this form of headache can be one of those times. The International Headache Society’s International Classification of Headache Disorders, Second Edition (ICHD-II) recognizes a form of headache called primary headache associated with sexual activity. There are two subtypes:
- preorgasmic headache and
- orgasmic headache
It’s important to distinguish these forms of headache from migraine triggered by sexual activity. These are headaches, not Migraines.
Preorgasmic headache occurs during sexual activity, increasing as sexual excitement increases. It’s usually bilateral, a dull ache in the head and neck (not migraine). It can also include neck and jaw muscle tightening.
Orgasmic headache is a severe, sudden headache (not Migraine) that occurs at orgasm.
Both preorgasmic and orgasmic headaches are more common among men than women. Most are short in duration, but for about 15% of those experiencing them, severe pain can last from four hours to 24 hours, which makes treatment necessary.
Primary headache associated with sexual activity has been called by other names in the past:
- benign sex headache
- coital cephalalgia
- benign vascular sexual headache
- sexual headache
Treatment for this type of headache, when necessary, is usually the NSAID indomethacin. Success rates up to 80% in preventing orgasmic headache have been seen with the beta blocker propranolol.
It is vitally important that other causes be ruled out before assigning a diagnosis of preorgasmic or orgasmic headache. Tests should be performed to rule out causes such as subarachnoid hemorrhage, arterial dissection, and cerebrospinal fluid leaks.
For your reference, here is the ICHD-II information on these two types of headache:
4.4 Primary headache associated with sexual activity
Previously used terms: Benign sex headache, coital cephalalgia, benign vascular sexual headache, sexual headache
Description: Headache precipitated by sexual activity, usually starting as a dull bilateral ache as sexual excitement increases and suddenly becoming intense at orgasm, in the absence of any intracranial disorder.
4.4.1 Preorgasmic headache
A. Dull ache in the head and neck associated with awareness of neck and/or jaw muscle contraction and meeting criterion B
B. Occurs during sexual activity and increases with sexual excitement
C. Not attributed to another disorder
4.4.2 Orgasmic headache
Coded elsewhere: Postural headache resembling that of low CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) pressure has been reported to develop after coitus. Such headache should be coded as 7.2.3 Headache attributed to spontaneous (or idiopathic) low CSF pressure because it is due to CSF leakage.
A. Sudden severe (“explosive”) headache meeting criterion B
B. Occurs at orgasm
C. Not attributed to another disorder1
Note: 1 On first onset of orgasmic headache it is mandatory to exclude conditions such as subarachnoid haemorrhage and arterial dissection.
An association between 4.4 Primary headache associated with sexual activity, 4.3 Primary exertional headache and migraine is reported in approximately 50% of cases.
Two subtypes (dull type and explosive type headache) were included in the first edition of The International Classification of Headache Disorders. No specific investigation has been undertaken since then to clarify whether they are separate entities. In most published reports of headache with sexual activity, only explosive (“vascular type”) headache has been reported. The dull type may be a subtype of tension-type headache, but no evidence supports this hypothesis. No firm data are available on the duration of primary headache associated with sexual activity, but it is usually considered to last from 1 minute to 3 hours.
Summary and comments:
Preorgasmic and orgasmic headache, forms of primary headache associated with sexual activity, are more common among men than women. These are headaches, not Migraines, and are generally bilateral. Treatment, when necessary, is usually indomethacin and / or propranolol. When diagnosing, care must be taken to rule out other, possibly more serious conditions.
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For information on types of Migraines and headaches, please see:
- Abdominal Migraine - The Basics
- Acephalgic or Silent Migraine - The Basics
- Alice In Wonderland Syndrome - The Basics
- Basilar-Type Migraine - the Basics
- Chronic Daily Headache - The Basics
- Cluster Headaches - The Basics
- Hemicrania Continua - The Basics
- Hemiplegic Migraine - The Basics
- Hypnic Headaches - The Basics
- Ice Pick Headaches - The Basics
- Migraine - What is It?
- Migraine With Aura - the Basics
- Migraine Without Aura - the Basics
- New Daily Persistent Headache - The Basics
- Paroxysmal Hemicrania - The Basics
- Primary Exertional Headache - The Basics
- Pseudotumor Cerebri (IIH) - The Basics
- Retinal Migraine - The Basics
- Status Migrainous - The Basics
- Tension-Type Headaches - The Basics
- Transformed Migraine - The Basics
The International Headache Society. “The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition.” (ICHD-II) September, 2004. www.i-h-s.org.
Frese, A.; Rahmann, A.; Gregor, N.; Biehl, K.; Husstedt, I-W; Evers, S. “Headahe associated with sexual activity: porognosis and treatment options.” Cephalalgia, 2007, 27, 1265-1270
Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD
Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation’s Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society. Teri can be found on her website, and blog, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.