Relationship Between Smoking and Headaches

bunch of cigarettes in an ashtray

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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 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 doctor and loved ones and a proper individualized treatment plan, cessation is absolutely possible.

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