Migraine and Tension-Type Headaches
Frustration and bright lights can lead to head pain
People often have quite a bit of difficulty trying to identify the causes of their headaches. When something happens before a person gets a headache, he or she does not know whether it was something that triggered the headache or whether the headache would have occurred anyway. One way to find out whether potential triggers really do cause headaches is to conduct an experiment. Negative affect and visual disturbances are two potential triggers that were recently examined in an experiment by researchers in Australia.
Negative affect is a term used to describe negative emotions or feelings, such as anxiety, anger, and depression. Visual disturbances refer to things like the flicker of lights, the glare from lights, and eyestrain.
The researchers in the present study recruited 75 participants of various ages who had a long history of frequent migraine or tension-type headaches. They also recruited 15 participants who did not to serve as a control group, so the results of participants with the aforementioned history of headaches could be compared to the results of participants without such a history. Across several sessions, the participants engaged in a number of activities, including trying to solve frustrating word puzzles (i.e., negative affect) and staring at something on a computer screen while bright flashing lights created glares on it (i.e., visual disturbances). While engaging in these tasks, physiological measurements were taken. They also completed some questionnaires. Additionally, between sessions, the participants kept a headache diary, in which they rated the intensity of any headaches they experienced 4 times per day.
The results of the study indicated that both negative affect and visual disturbances can trigger headaches, regardless of whether people tend to get migraine or tension-type headaches or whether they believe they are triggers for them. Visual disturbances also led to negative affect, however, so it was unclear form the findings whether visual disturbances actually can trigger headaches directly or must exert their influence indirectly through negative affect. The findings that were based on the diary information demonstrated that these two triggers had their strongest influence on the intensity of subsequent headaches 48 to 72 hours afterward.
Source: Martin, P. R., & Teoh, H.-J. (1999). Efffects of visual stimuli and a stressor on head pain. Headache, 39, 705-715.