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High BP Not to Blame for Headaches

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March 25, 2002 -- Contrary to popular thought, having high blood pressure doesn't necessarily go to your head and cause more frequent headaches. In fact, a new study suggests high blood pressure may actually reduce the risk of headaches.

Researchers first linked high blood pressure to headaches nearly 100 years ago. Since then, many studies have examined the link, but some have supported it while others have disputed it.

This study, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, is the first forward-looking study to evaluate blood pressure as a risk factor for headaches.

The researchers tracked more than 22,000 adults and measured their blood pressure and headaches reported for an 11-year period. Researchers found people with high blood pressure readings -- more than 150/90 -- had headaches 30% less often than those with systolic blood pressure readings -- the top/higher number -- under 140.

For both men and women, the risk of headaches decreased as systolic blood pressure increased. This was true even for people without high blood pressure. Although the study found high systolic blood pressure also reduced the risk of migraine headaches in women, no similar reduction was found in men.

Researchers say high blood pressure can reduce sensitivity to pain in the brain and spinal cord (a phenomenon called hypertension associated hypalgesia), which may explain why fewer headaches were seen with high blood pressure.

The authors note that their study may be limited by the fact that they measured headaches at the start of the study indirectly through information about use of pain relieving medications. People who had never used the drugs in the past month were considered unlikely to have had headaches, but some people may have had headaches and not used medication to ease their pain.-->

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