For some people with Migraines or cluster headaches, sexual activity can be a trigger or exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, a new study has shown that for a significant number of people with Migraines and cluster headaches, sexual activity can provide some relief, and even provide complete relief for some.
"Headache associated with sexual activity is a well-known primary headache disorder. In contrast, some case reports in the literature suggest that sexual activity during a migraine or cluster headache attack might relieve the pain in at least some patients. We performed an observational study among patients of a tertiary headache clinic."1
- A questionnaire was sent to 800 Migraine patients and 200 cluster headache patients, asking for experience with sexual activity during Migraine and cluster attacks and its impact on the Migraine or headache intensity.
- The survey was strictly and completely anonymous.
- For purposes of the survey, sexual activity was defined as "any sexual intercourse or masturbation with the aim of reaching an orgasm or orgasm-like feeling.
- The first question asked if the patients had any experience with sexual activity during Migraine or cluster attacks. If the answer to that question was, “Yes,” patients were asked to complete sever additional questions asking about:
- frequency of sexual activity during an attack,
- improvement or worsening of attacks during attacks and it’s reliability,
- the necessity of experiencing orgasm to achieve attack improvement, and
- the therapeutic use of sexual activity during attacks.
- Patients were also asked for:
- age at onset of Migraines or cluster headaches,
- frequency of attacks,
- length of attacks,
- presence or aura, and
- presence of other headache disorders.
- Completed questionnaires were received from 402 patients:
- 306 with Migraines
- 96 with cluster headaches
- More patients with Migraine than with cluster reported an improvement with sexual activity:
- 60.2% of Migraine patients and
- 36.7 of cluster patients.
- Worsening of attacks was reported by:
- 33% of the Migraine patients and
- 50% of the cluster headache patients.
- Timing of Migraine relief:
- 43.0% of the Migraine patients reported change shortly after the time of orgasm or maximal excitement. This broke down to 36.4% of male Migraineurs and 13.7% of female Migraineurs.
- 17.7% of the Migraine patients reported change at the time of orgasm.
- 20.3% of the Migraine patients reported relief at the beginning of sexual activity.
- 20.3% of the Migraine patients reported relief within 30 minutes after orgasm or maximal excitement.
- Timing of cluster relief:
- The findings in cluster patients were similar to those of Migraine, with 73.1% reporting change with or shortly after orgasm.
- The change in Migraine and cluster attacks was not linked to the type of sexual activity, when during the attack sexual activity occurred, or the position during sexual activity.
- No factor could be found to predict improvement of attacks with sexual activity.
"In summary, the observed association between relief of headache disorders and sexual activity in some patients is not clear enough to derive the advice of sexual intercourse as a therapeutic mean for every patient. The individual patient has to test for herself or himself whether sexual activity is helpful in a specific headache attack. In order to make this decision, migraine and cluster headache patients should be informed on request about this association by their consulting physician. For future research, a prospective study including a headache diary and a control group with another type of activity during the headache attacks should be designed."1
Explanation of relief:
- Partial relief may be due to distraction.
- There are several other possible explanations:
- released endorphins
- postorgasmic relaxation
- extragenital reactions such as blood pressure
- reaction of the hypothalamus, which contains vital autonomic nervous system regulatory centers
- “Sexual activity can abort migraine and cluster headache attacks in some patients.”
- “Sexual activity is used by some patients as acute headache treatment.”
Summary and comments:
Since most anything that can provide relief from Migraine and cluster attacks is worth trying, it may well be time to throw out the old clichÃ©, “Not tonight, dear, I have a headache;” and give sexual activity a try the next time a Migraine or cluster attack strikes.
The possible reasons that some people achieve relief are fascinating. Obviously, for anyone healthy enough for sexual activity, this “treatment” would be less expensive and have fewer potential side effects.
1 Hambach, Anke; Evers, Stefan; Summ, Oliver, Husstedt, Ingo W.; Frese, Achim. “The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: An ovservational study.” Cephalalgia. OnlineFirst February 19, 2013.
2 Castillo, Michelle. “Sex may be a natural way to treat migraines, cluster headaches.” CBSNews.com. March 6, 2013.
3 Weiss, Jonathan. “Can Sex Cure Headaches? Exhaustive Study Says So.” Medical Daily. March 6, 2013.
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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+.