Sex, migraines make peculiar bedfellows
Scientists who studied 68 headache sufferers from Chicago found people who suffer migraines reported thinking about and desiring sex more than people who experience run-of-the-mill tension headaches.
The differences were most pronounced for male "migraineurs."
Overall, not only were the scores on the "sexual desire inventory" higher for people with migraines, but "one of the items asked people to rate their desire compared to others of the same age and gender. They thought their sexual desire was higher," reports lead author Dr. Timothy Houle.
Granted, they didn't yearn for sex in the throes of a migraine attack. The "incompatibility" of sex while suffering from a headache, let alone a throbbing migraine, is "intuitively valid," the team will report later this month in the journal Headache.
But an increased sex drive may be another "quirk" of having migraines, Houle said in an interview, and it may add to the growing evidence of a complex interplay between sexual activity and pains in the head.
Specifically, the finding suggests sexual desire and migraines might be partially controlled by the same brain chemical, serotonin, which also plays a role in depression.
"We noticed in our clinics that a lot of our patients (headache sufferers) who were taking medications that affect serotonin experienced diminished sex drive," says Houle, research assistant professor of anesthesiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina.
Eighteen per cent of women and six per cent of men suffer from migraines, a gender gap that diminishes as women reach menopause. Migraines are characterized by pain, usually on one side of the head, sensory symptoms such as auras, nausea and vomiting.
It's not the first paper to look at the relationship between sex and headaches: Scientists have reported that sexual arousal and intercourse can cause headaches. Others describe "explosive" headaches that occur post-orgasm.
But, paradoxically, sex has also been shown to ease headaches. Houle's group cites one unpublished study that found 70 per cent of 82 women studied reported having had sex during at least one migraine attack.
Nearly half, 47 per cent, said they experienced at least some amount of relief afterwards; 17.5 per cent reported complete relief.
It was already thought that high levels of serotonin are associated with low sex drive. People on Prozac and other antidepressants that boost serotonin levels in the brain often complain of low libidos. Migraine sufferers tend to have chronically low levels of serotonin; so, Houle's team hypothesized, they would report higher levels of sexual desire.
The researchers recruited 68 volunteers -- whose mean age was 24 -- who reported having at least 10 headaches a year. They filled out a "headache inventory" and a 14-item questionnaire designed to assess cognitive levels of "dyadic" -- meaning needing two people -- and solitary sexual desire. For example, they were asked, "When you have sexual thoughts, how strong is your desire to engage in sexual behaviour?"
Overall, migraine sufferers reported levels of sexual desire that were 20 per cent higher than