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Migraine Sufferers: Are They Sexier?

Sexual Desire Stronger in Those Who Suffer the Debilitating Headaches
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Orgasm: A Migraine Cure? continued...

Couch tells WebMD he was recruiting migraine patients for a drug study when he met a distinguished 40-year-old woman who worked as a midlevel manager for the state of Illinois.

"She said, 'If I can just have a good, banging orgasm, it can stop my migraine cold. But my husband just divorced me. I don't need a pill; I just need a phone number,'" Couch recalls.

This encounter led Couch to ask 82 other female patients if they ever had sex during a migraine -- and, if they did, what happened to their headache.

"It appears that for a small group of people who suffer migraines -- perhaps 20% -- one physiologic process -- orgasm -- will turn off another physiological process -- migraine," he says. "I followed up with this for some years. I always came up with the same thing: The occasional patient's migraine would go away after orgasm."

Couch also found another way sex was linked to migraine. Many migraine sufferers experience aura -- often described as a visual experience of sparkling light. But sometimes, Couch says, premigraine aura is experienced as a mood. For most of these people, it's an irritable mood. But for some, it's a euphoric or hyperenergetic mood.

"One of my patients says, 'My husband loves it the day before my headache. My sex drive goes through the roof,'" Couch says.

Sex-Migraine Link: New Treatment Clue?

Houle says Couch's work made him wonder about the link between sex and migraines. Recent studies, he says, show migraine headaches are linked to low levels in the brain of the chemical signal serotonin.

People with clinical depressiondepression also have low serotonin levels. Some antidepressant drugs, such as Prozac, raise levels of this brain chemical, but can cause loss of sexual desire and sexual dysfunction. The newest class of migraine drugs, triptans, also affect serotonin levels.

The finding that migraine sufferers have increased sexual desire strengthens the link between serotonin levels and migraine, Houle says.

"Every piece of information about the migraine experience helps us understand what the migraine is like in the brain and in the body," he says. "This, we hope, will lead to improved treatment and management. And besides, it is just plain interesting."

Houle and colleagues report their findings in the June issue of the journal Headache.

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