Why Hangovers May Be Worse for Migraine Sufferers

Patient Expert

Research presented at the International Headache Congress showed that people who have Migraines are likely to have worse hangovers from drinking alcohol.

On the surface, this might sound like frivolous research undertaken in a time when we so badly need solid research that will lead to better treatments. Beyond the headlines, that's precisely what this research is. Maxwell and Oshinsky state their research objectives thusly:

"We are currently studying the effects alcohol on the trigeminal neurovascular system which could provide new insights into the pathophysiology of headache induction using a trigger that is known to induce headaches in humans."1

Background leading to this research:

• A fundamental question in the pathophysiology (functional changes associated with or resulting from disease or injury and the study of those changes) of headache is, "How is a headache induced?"

• The mechanism that brings on spontaneous headaches in Migraineurs is still unknown.

• Until recently, there were no animal models available to study to address the question of spontaneous headache in Migraineurs.

• This research combined a model of recurrent headache with alcohol, a common trigger of headache and Migraine in humans, to produce an inducible headache in a rat.

Study methods:

Our laboratory has developed a behavioral model of recurrent headache in rats, which uses repeated inflammatory activation of the trigeminal nociceptive pathway to simulate repeated headaches.

• Four groups of rats were studied. They were implanted with a canula to allow infusions above the dura (the outer membrane of the brain).

• Two groups of rats received eight saline infusions followed by an oral dose of either saline or alcohol on a day when they did not receive an infusion though the canula.

• The other two groups of rats received eight inflammatory solution infusions followed by either an oral dose of saline or alcohol.

Study results:

The sensory threshold (the minimum intensity of a stimulus at which it can be detected) for the rats given inflammatory infusions and alcohol changed significantly. They exhibited decreased sensitivity within two hours of ingesting alcohol. BUT, four to six hours after ingesting the alcohol, they exhibited a threshold below their threshold before the experiment began, indicating that the alcohol may have induced pain.

Study conclusions:

"This observation provides insight in to the effects of alcohol on trigeminal pain. This is the first demonstration of an inducible headache in a rat model that uses a trigger that also induces headaches in the humans. Future directions include examining the cellular mechanism behind this phenomenon."1

Researcher comments:

Michael Oshinsky, assistant professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University and a member of the Jefferson Headache Center team commented:

"Our results suggest that dehydration or impurities in alcohol are not responsible for hangover headache... Since these rats were sufficiently hydrated and the alcohol they received contained no impurities, the alcohol itself or a metabolite must be causing the hangover-like headache."

Summary and comments:

Although this research didn't identify the exact cause of the hangover-like headaches, it did successfully rule out dehydration and impurities in the alcohol. This is a vital first step.

Until researchers understand the functional changes that occur to trigger Migraine attacks and the functional changes that occur during Migraines, they lack knowledge vital to developing truly effective treatments, let alone pursuing a cure for Migraine disease. The importance of such basic research cannot be overstated.


1 Maxwell, CR; Oshinsky, ML. "Alcohol induces headache in a rat model of migraine." 14th International Headache Congress. Philadelphia. September, 2009.

2 Katyal, Sugita. "Migraine Sufferer? Hangover likely to be worse, study shows." Reuters Life! October 19, 2009.

3 Preidt, Robert. "Hangovers May Be Tougher for Migraine Sufferers." HealthDay News. October 19, 2009.

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