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Migraines and Sex

How to keep your migraines from wrecking your sex life.

Migraines, Sexual Desire, and Orgasm

Wake Forest University headache researcher Timothy Houle, PhD, has studied the sex drive of men and women who get migraines. And he's been surprised by what he found.

In a small study Houle led in 2006, male and female migraine sufferers reported thinking more about sex than people who don't get migraines. But other research has shown lower levels of sexual desire, and higher levels of sexual pain, in people who get migraines.

In addition, some studies show that people find migraine relief by having an orgasm. But orgasm can sometimes trigger a headache -- even in women who don't get migraine headaches, Martin says. 


MIgraines and Intimacy

Migraines present couples a challenge to build tolerance and patience -- and that takes emotional maturity, says San Diego family and marriage counselor Barbara Cunningham, PsyD.

Cunningham recalls a couple she worked with, in which the woman had migraines. "She was extremely attentive and loving and affirmational," Cunningham says. The wife "learned to create an emotional bank account" with her partner. "So if a migraine struck at an inopportune time, there was that emotional bank account. He felt loved and valuable, not pushed away."

But if the couple is "reactive" -- they don't get along -- "adding a migraine headache to their already full plate is enough to create a problem that puts them more at risk of breaking up," Cunningham says. "You have to assess a lot of things in the relationship besides the symptom.'' Stress reduction may help the partner who doesn't get migraines, and couples therapy may be part of their long-term plan.

Understanding and communication help. For instance, a husband who doesn't understand his wife's chronic migraines could accompany her on a doctor's visit. And a wife who gets migraines could talk about it with her partner, says Shapiro, who runs the Networks Family Counseling centers in San Francisco and Sausalito, Calif.

Shapiro lets patients know that migraines are nobody's fault, and he urges people with migraines to maintain a healthy lifestyle -- stay away from foods, alcohol, and other substances that bring on a migraine -- and to address their issues.

"That’s why couples have to be able to talk to each other -- really come together and support each other," Shapiro says. "If he's feeling resentful, she needs to hear it. If he picks up the slack, she has to appreciate it.''

Reviewed on March 12, 2014

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