Relationship Between Smoking and Headaches

Smoking is a trigger for some headache sufferers — although the precise relationship is still unclear. Regardless, stopping smoking is a good idea for a number of health reasons.

An ashtray full of cigarettes
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Headaches and Smoking

Cluster headaches: Smoking is most notably associated with cluster headaches. In fact, one 1999 study in Cephalagia revealed that nearly 80% of people with episodic cluster headaches smoked.

However, there does not appear to be a causal 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) is recommended. With support from your healthcare provider and loved ones and a proper individualized treatment plan, cessation is absolutely possible.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Manzoni GC. Cluster headache and lifestyle: remarks on a population of 374 male patients. Cephalalgia. 1999;19(2):88-94. doi:10.1046/j.1468-2982.1999.019002088.x

  3. Ferrari A, Zappaterra M, Righi F, et al. Impact of continuing or quitting smoking on episodic cluster headache: a pilot surveyJ Headache Pain. 2013;14(1):48. doi:10.1186/1129-2377-14-48

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking.

  5. López-Mesonero L, Márquez S, Parra P, Gámez-Leyva G, Muñoz P, Pascual J. Smoking as a precipitating factor for migraine: a survey in medical studentsJ Headache Pain. 2009;10(2):101–103. doi:10.1007/s10194-009-0098-2

  6. Kristoffersen ES, Lundqvist C. Medication-overuse headache: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatmentTher Adv Drug Saf. 2014;5(2):87–99. doi:10.1177/2042098614522683

By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.