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Migraine and Intimacy

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on February 23, 2022

Migraines can be tough on every aspect of your life, including romance and intimacy.

A quarter of patients in one study said migraine headaches changed the quality of sexual intimacy and also the frequency. And in some cases, the toll can be quite serious. About 5% in the study said it was the cause of their divorce or end of relationship.

On the other hand, some studies show that many women get relief of their migraine with sexual activity. There are a number of things you can do to help manage the effect of migraine on romantic intimacy in your life.

Understand the Impact

Typical migraine symptoms include serious head pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to smells, lights, sounds, movement, and touch. It’s easy to see how these things might get in the way of romantic intimacy.

In addition, some women report higher levels of pain and anxiety when they have intercourse with a migraine headache. In rare cases, sexual orgasm even seems to trigger migraine headaches in some people, though more study is needed to figure out why this is.

But sex relieves migraine headache symptoms for some women. This appears to work in some cases whether you have sexual activity with a partner or on your own (masturbation).

Hold Off the Headache

Some people, especially those with chronic migraine headaches, may need to take preventative medicines to keep a migraine from starting in the first place. Some of the medicines that prevent migraines, like beta-blockers, may put a damper on your sex life. Don't stop taking your medication on your own, but talk to your doctor to see if there are better options for you.

People with migraine or chronic headaches have higher levels of depression and anxiety than those who don't Treatment of these conditions also could help boost your enthusiasm in the bedroom. But some medicines used to treat depression or anxiety may do the opposite. They may affect your desire or your ability to perform in the bedroom. Talk to your doctor to see if any medications that you are taking may be affecting your love life.

About 75% of people who get migraine headaches are women. If that's you, be aware that changes in hormone levels right before your period can be a trigger for migraine headaches. Knowing the cycle gives you an idea of when a migraine may throw a wrench in your love-making.

For some women, taking birth control pills improves migraines, but for others, it can make them worse. Sometimes switching to a different type of pill helps. Talk to your health care team about the right hormone therapy for you.

Lifestyle factors can also have a big effect on migraine attacks. Routine can be your friend when you’re trying to keep migraine attacks at bay. That’s why so many people do better when they stay on a regular schedule for meals and sleep. Daily exercise and drinking lots of water can help, too.

Know Your Triggers

You can also manage your migraine symptoms -- and maybe help reignite romance with your partner -- by avoiding the things that trigger your migraines.

Common triggers include:

  • Red wine
  • Strong smells like perfume and scented candles
  • Bright light
  • Changes in weather

A migraine journal can help you identify your particular triggers.

Since many triggers can be the staples of a romantic evening, you may need to rethink how you get in the mood. You might want to skip the red wine or other booze right before sex. Think about your other triggers. If they include loud music and strong smells, you could try to keep music low and ask your partner not to wear scents like cologne or perfume.

Talk It Out

It's important to let your partner know how headaches affect every part of your life, including love-making. Be open and honest and don’t be afraid to seek professional help. For example, you could take your partner with you to doctor's appointments so that they better understand your condition.

Another option is to seek couples counseling from a trained mental health and relationship specialist.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Steiner, Timothy J. Journal of Headache and Pain, published online Jan. 10, 2013.

Smith, Robert. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, published online June 11, 2003.

News release, American Headache Society.

Ifergane, G. Journal of Headache and Pain, published online March 4, 2008.

Joshua M. Cohen, MD, director of education, department of neurology, Mount Sinai West Hospital, New York City and board member, American Migraine Foundation.

Teshamae Monteith, MD, chief, Headache Division, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Office on Women's Health: "Migraine fact sheet."

The Migraine Trust: "Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Migraine."

Houle, Timothy J. et. al. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, published online May 24, 2006.

Nappi, R.E. et. al. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, March 2012.

Eraslan, Defne et. al. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, published online, May 23, 2014.

News release, American Academy of Neurology.

Hambach, Anke et. al. Cephalalgia, published online February 19, 2013: “The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: an observational study.”

American Headache Society: "Essential Elements of Migraine Management 3: Trigger Identification and Management."

American Headache Society: "Ten Things That You and Your Patients with Migraine Should Know."

Mayo Clinic: “Antidepressants: Which cause the fewest sexual side effectss?”

American Migraine Foundation: "The Impact of Family on Migraine."

Neurology Migraine: “Masturbation and orgasm as migraine headache treatment: Report of a case.”

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