Can Headaches Cause Mood Swings? The 2 Are Related, But It's Complicated

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When a headache becomes severe, it can upend everything that's going on in your life at that moment, disrupting your work schedule and ruining any social time you were planning to enjoy. Headaches and migraines can wreak all sorts of havoc on your life, especially if they happen on a severe or routine basis. But have you ever wondered if headaches can cause mood swings? Of course, having a headache will, most likely, lead to a worse mood, sheerly as a result of feeling pain or having your day totally ruined, but the real question is whether a headache can chemically alter your mood, or alternatively, whether a sour mood can actually trigger a headache to come on.

According to Dr. David Dodick, a neurologist and headache specialist for the Mayo Clinic, who answered questions from migraine patients in a 2010 article for The New York Times, migraines can, in fact, be associated with "a range of cognitive, emotional and physical symptoms" leading up to the actual head pain, which can include fatigue, depression, and irritability. These symptoms can last for up to a day, and change depending upon each patient's specific migraine situation.

Additionally, The New York Times confirmed that migraines can often be triggered by intense stress, although the two aren't always related to one another. However, that's not the only way that head pain can be connected to your moods.

According to the Migraine Relief Center, approximately 80 percent of migraine patients have some level of anxiety or depression.

This basically leads to a chicken-or-egg question for researchers in this area: Do people have migraines because of their anxiety or depression, or do they become anxious or depressed because of their frequent migraines?

Well, the research on this seems to lean toward an answer that falls somewhere in the middle. Per the Migraine Relief Center, migraines, depression, and forms of anxiety are all of a neurochemical nature, meaning they're related to chemicals being produced in your brain. Specifically, serotonin (the hormone that makes you feel happy) plays a big role in both migraines and depression: Migraine patients often experience a severe lack of serotonin, and people with depression and anxiety often experience similar plummets of serotonin in their systems.

Bottom line: There's plenty of evidence to demonstrate the relationship between anxiety, depression, and migraine frequency — but what about those who aren't living with depression or anxiety?

There's no specific evidence to prove that a bad mood can lead directly to a headache, or a migraine, for that matter.

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Although migraines and headaches have been shown to affect your moods to some degree, there's no reason to worry that you're going to literally trigger head pain simply because you're feeling upset about something.

Of course, there are other factors that can always play a role here. For example, when you cry heavily, you might experience a headache due to the pressure in your sinuses from all that congestion. Similarly, if you're yelling or clenching your teeth from rage, you might trigger head pain from the tension in your body. As the Migraine Relief Center noted, head pain and migraines are controlled by the neurochemicals in your brain, so it follows that if your actions affect those neurochemicals via tension, congestion, or an increased blood flow, you might start to feel some throbbing in your head.

Hopefully, there will be more studies in the future looking at the relationship between head pain and mood swings that don't directly and solely revolve around migraines, as migraines are a very specific type of head pain and, although they're obviously important, they don't encompass the full spectrum of headaches that people experience.

If you do feel an awful mood coming on with your headache, you might want to consider what you're doing that's causing your anxiety, and how you might be able to relieve that tension and stress, even if this means extricating yourself from a situation, or going to take a bubble bath in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

As always, you should see a doctor if the head pain that you're experiencing becomes totally unbearable. In the meantime, bubble baths and ibuprofen are your friend.