Relationship Between Smoking and Headaches

The Complex Headache Link But Compelling Enough to Quit Smoking

Smoking Worsens Your Headache Health. Stephanie Garza/EyeEm/Getty Images

Smoking is a trigger for some headache sufferers -- although the precise relationship still leaves doctors and scientists scratching their heads. Regardless, stopping smoking is a good idea for a number of health reasons.

Headaches and Smoking

Cluster Headaches: In the headache world, smoking is most notably associated with cluster headaches. In fact, one study in Cephalagia revealed that nearly 80 percent of people with episodic cluster headaches smoked compared to nearly 90 percent of people with chronic cluster headaches.

That being said, there does not appear to be a casual relationship between smoking and cluster headaches -- meaning smoking does not appear to directly trigger cluster headaches. So cluster headache sufferers who stop smoking don't usually have headache improvement. That being said, don't let this deter you from quitting smoking. There are many other health benefits from smoking cessation, and your headaches may or may not be one of them.

Migraines: There may be a link between smoking and migraines, especially in people who suffer from chronic migraines. This could be because the smell of smoke may trigger migraines in some people. Alternatively, since both headaches and smoking are associated with psychiatric disorders (especially depression ) it could be that a person's psychiatric illness is the root of both their smoking and migraines.

Medication Overuse Headache: A high rate of smoking has been found among people who suffer from medication overuse headache -- a headache disorder characterized by over-utilization of pain-alleviating medications.

Like cluster headaches and migraines, there may be many factors that mediate this connection between smoking and medication overuse headaches.

On the Flip Side

It's important to note that there are a number of studies that do not support the association between migraines or other headaches and smoking.

These conflicting results tell us that the relationship  between smoking and headaches is still not understood and is likely complex and unique for every headache sufferer.

Regardless, smoking does increase a person's risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. It's also linked to a number of other cancers like bladder, cervical, esophageal, pancreatic, and colon cancer. Cessation is critical for prevention of these health-related conditions.

Bottom Line

If you are a smoker and are itching to quit, good for you! The good news is that there are a number of therapies available, and usually a combination of medication (like nicotine replacement therapy) and behavioral strategies (like acupuncture or hypnotherapy) are recommended. With support from your doctor and loved ones and a proper individualized treatment plan, cessation is absolutely possible.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Smoking and Tobacco Use

Chandler, M.A., & Rennard, S.I. (2010). Working Group for the Stidy of Transdermal Nicotine in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease. Chest, 137(2):428-35.

Kristoffersen, E.S. & Lundqvist, C. (2014). Medication-overuse headache: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, Apr; 5(2): 87–99.

Ferrari, A. (2013).  Impact of continuing or quitting smoking on episodic cluster headache: a pilot survey. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 14(1): 48.

Larzelere, M.M. (2012). Promoting Smoking Cessation. American Family Physician,Mar 15;85(6):591-598.

López-Mesnero, L., et al. (2009). Smoking as a precipitating factor for migraine: a survey in medical students. The Journal of Headache and Pain, Apr;10(2):101-3.

Manzoni, G.C. (1999). Cluster headache and lifestyle: remarks on a population of 374 male patients. Cephalalgia, Mar;19(2):88-94.

Payne, T.J., et al. (1991). The impact of cigarette smoking on headache activity in headache patients. Headache, May;31(5):329-32.

Straube, A., et al.(2010). Prevalence of chronic migraine and medication overuse headache in Germany – the German DMKG Headache Study. Cephalalgia, Feb;30(2):207-13.

Taylor, F.R., (2015). Tobacco, Nicotine, and Headache. Headache, Jul;55(7):1028-44.

Zanchin, G., et al. (2007). Osmophobia in migraine and tension-type
headache and its clinical features in patients with migraine. Cephalalgia, Sept;27(9):1061–68.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition

Continue Reading