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Is Sex Causing My Headaches?

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Updated June 12, 2014

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Is Sex Causing My Headaches?

Maybe it was in a sitcom, or maybe it was in a movie, when we first heard the words "Not now, honey -- I have a headache." But in reality, sex and headaches seem to have a love-hate relationship. For some people, sex can ease the pain of a pounding head. For others, an orgasm can bring on a throbbing headache. Fortunately, we have some answers about the unique relationship between sex and headaches.

Can Sex Ease My Headaches?

For some people, sex can ease the pain associated with a headache, and a few biological mechanisms may be responsible for this. One theory is that sex causes endorphins to be released, which can ease pain. Another theory is that the neurotransmitter serotonin is responsible. When serotonin is released, it may cause a “feel-good sensation” that might reduce the pain of a headache.

A 2001 study published in Headache found that in a group of women who had sex during a migraine, 30% felt a reduction in pain, while 17.5% became completely headache-free. James Couch, a neurology professor at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, reported that more than 20% of women felt a reduction in headache symptoms after having sex. The theory behind it is that vaginal stimulation opens a neural pathway that reduces pain -- the same pathway that might contribute to easing pain during childbirth.

Can Sex Cause My Headaches?

Headaches can be triggered by sexual excitement -- especially orgasm. Men are at an increased risk. Some sex headaches cause a dull ache in both sides of the head, as well as the neck. Pain may also be felt in the jaw and typically intensifies with sexual excitement and orgasm. Headaches that come on during an orgasm may be a response to increased blood pressure and heart rate. Orgasm-triggered headaches are usually described as throbbing or stabbing. For some, headaches build up during sex due to increased muscle tension, and are eased with orgasm.

Are Sex Headaches Serious?

If you are experiencing sex headaches on a regular basis and it’s negatively impacting your quality of life, it’s important to seek a doctor’s attention. Typically, sex headaches are not a cause for concern but can last up to 30 minutes. Sometimes it can signal a serious problem with blood vessels in the brain. Rarely, a headache during sex can be caused by a hemorrhage, or bleeding into the brain. This is often described as a “thunderclap” headache, or like the worst headache you have ever had. Thunderclap headaches can also be accompanied by neurological symptoms like a change in vision, confusion, and motor difficulties. This is a medical emergency so you should seek medical attention immediately.

How Can I Prevent A Sex Headache?

Sex headaches can be prevented with medication. This may include a daily dose of beta blockers, which are typically used to treat high blood pressure and migraines. Preventative treatment with an anti-inflammatory before intercourse may also prevent the headache. Some doctors advise that patients who have migraines triggered by sex take a triptan prior to sexual stimulation. Taking a more passive role in sex or reducing the amount of stimulation may also help to ease sex headaches.

Are There Ways I Can Cope With Sex Headaches?

A healthy sex life is very important, whether sex relieves or causes your headaches. If you suffer from regular sex headaches, it is a good idea to work with your healthcare practitioner. You may also want to think about keeping a headache diary to help identify headache triggers. A headache diary may also help you to determine which headache treatments are helpful in relieving your pain. You can also seek the advice of your doctor regarding any lifestyle changes that could help to ease your headache.

It is also very important to communicate with your partner. You may be able to come up with a way to be intimate without causing headaches. If you are in the process of working on the problem with your doctor, it is a good idea to let your partner know -- in the end, it may help reduce stress and tension in the relationship.

Sources:

Evans RW, Couch R.Orgasm and migraine. Headache. 2001 May;41(5):512-4.

Nappi RE, Terreno E, Tassorelli C, Sances G, Allena M, Guaschino E, Antonaci F, Albani F, Polatti F.Sexual function and distress in women treated for primary headaches in a tertiary university center. J Sex Med. 2012 Mar;9(3):761-9. 2012 Feb 9.

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