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Study links migraine headaches, sex drive

June 13, 2006
Courtesy Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
and World Science staff

Contrary to the cliché, “Not tonight, I have a headache,” a study has found that not all headache sufferers avoid sex: in fact, migraine sufferers report higher levels of sexual desire than people with other types of headaches.

Migraine is a type of severe, recurring headache. “Sexual desire and migraine headaches may be influenced by the same brain chemical,” said Timothy Houle of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., lead author of the study. The research, which involved 68 young adults from Chicago, is to appear in an upcoming issue of the research journal Headache.

“Understanding of this link will help us to better understand the nature of migraine and perhaps lead to improved treatment,” he added.

Evidence suggests a complex relationship between sexual activity and headache, the researchers said. Both have been linked to levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that also plays a role in depression. Excess serotonin may be associated with decreased libido, and migraine sufferers are reported to have low levels of the brain chemical in their systems. Serotonin has also been found to play a role in migraine attacks. 

“Considering the circumstantial evidence linking both migraine and sexual desire to serotonin, we wanted to explore whether the two phenomena are actually related,” said Houle. “The study demonstrated that migraine patients in general may experience higher levels of sexual desire than others… They appeared to be aware of this, rating their sex drive as being higher than others their age and gender.” 

“This opens the door to consider other phenomena that have a similar neurochemical basis,” he added. For example, there is an increased prevalence of depression in people with migraine, he said.

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