Published February 14, 2021 By Adam Lowenstein

At the beginning of the 21st Century, we understood little about the relationship between smoking and migraines. The scientific community had determined that smoking poses several health concerns, but some still believed that this habit might even decrease migraines. This theory relates to the idea that smoking decreases stress and anxiety. More recently, data suggest that tobacco use is a contributing factor to migraines and other chronic headaches. Here, we will discuss what science says about smoking and migraines and what you can do to improve your quality of life.

Why Smoking is Detrimental to Health and Comfort

Cigarettes contain chemicals like nicotine and carbon monoxide. The latter is present in cigarette smoke, so those exposed to it may be affected, as well. This is not new news. While smoking has been praised for its ability to calm the nerves, research suggests that the opposite may be true. The nicotine in cigarettes has been shown to reduce the efficacy of exercise and stress-management techniques. It also inhibits the effectiveness of most headache medications. It does so by reducing the liver’s ability to metabolize them.

The relationship between smoking and migraines has been studied internationally. A study conducted in Spain involving 361 medical students discovered that 20% of non-migraine sufferers smoked, whereas 29% of migraine sufferers did smoke. Of the women in the study, 22% smoked. Smokers accounted for 34% of migraine sufferers. Furthermore, the number of cigarettes smoked per day correlated to the frequency of migraines.

A study conducted in Detroit, involving approximately 1,000 people, discovered that 33% of migraine sufferers used tobacco. This was nearly double the rate of migraines as non-smokers. A study conducted at a headache clinic found that headache intensity was higher among smokers than non-smokers. This data suggests that smoking may jeopardize any headache treatment program.

Will Quitting Smoking Put an End to Headaches?

With mounting data correlating smoking with migraines and other headaches, one might think that the answer to their woes is to quit smoking. We are in support of that break. However, there is more to headaches than we may understand at this time. Smoking does not necessarily cause migraines. The root causes of headaches are not obvious. Based on recent research, specialists in headache surgery see a connection between migraines and irritation in peripheral nerves like the occipital nerves in the head and neck. It is not currently believed that smoking causes migraines in a person who is not otherwise prone to this problem. However, the habit does seem to contribute to more than one aspect of headaches, including frequency and intensity.

It is beneficial for migraine sufferers to discontinue cigarette smoking. It is also advantageous to consult with a physician with training and experience performing headache surgery to get a bigger picture of this relationship. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Lowenstein, call 805.969.9004.

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