The typical headache attacks experienced by migraine sufferers is unilateral, of gradual onset, throbbing, moderate to extreme in severity, and typically aggravated by almost any movement. Pain caused by migraines can be bilateral or start on one side and become generalised to the entire area, and can even last anywhere between 4-72 hours in adults and 1-72 hours in children. In a brand new study of 2,197 migraine patients, researchers found that almost 36 percent of study participants reported alcohol to be a migraine trigger.
In particular, two types of alcohol-induced headache were reported in secondary headaches. The immediate alcohol-induced headache, which develops within 3 hours after ingestion of alcoholic beverages, and the delayed alcohol-induced headache (previously termed hangover headache), which develops after the blood alcohol level declines or reduces to zero. In the comment, it was stated that few subjects develop the former type of headache, while the alcohol-delayed headache is one of the commonest type of headache, the day after alcohol consumption, provoked by ingestion of modest amount of alcoholic beverages in migraine sufferers, while non-migraine sufferers usually need a higher intake.
“We assessed alcoholic beverage consumption and self‐reported trigger potential, reasons behind alcohol abstinence and time between alcohol consumption and migraine attack onset,” the study’s authors say in the paper’s abstract.
Most migraine patients reported that wine, in particular red wine, was the most common migraine triggers where alcoholic drinks were concerned. Although it was one of the most popular, red wine only triggered migraine attacks in about nine percent of participants, according to a recent press release made on the study. Researchers involved in the study also found that the onset of a migraine post-alcohol consumption was fast, and typically took less than three hours in one third of the study’s patients. Additionally, nearly 90 percent of patients got a migraine in under 10 hours, no matter what type of alcoholic drink they had before their headache started.
“Alcohol-triggered migraine occurs rapidly after intake of alcoholic beverages, suggesting a different mechanism than a normal hangover,” lead study author, Dr. Gisela Terwindt, of the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands said in the press release. And while alcohol does seem to significantly contribute to migraine symptoms in some people, more research is needed to understand why that is, and how that works, researchers say.
According to The American Migraine Foundation, migraine patients tend to drink less alcohol than people who don’t get migraines. Many migraine patients avoid red wine since it’s perceived as the main alcoholic migraine trigger, but studies don’t actually back this up yet. (There are actually more sulfites in white wine than red, the Wall Street Journal reports, but they’re still not linked to any headaches or extreme migraines.)
However, any alcoholic beverage can potentially cause migraines in some people to some degree, although one type of drink in particular doesn’t seem to be worse than another as far as research goes, according to The American Migraine Foundation. However, with all things considering, many migraine patients identify their triggers over time, and causes of migraines can vary from person to person.
“Certain chemicals in alcohol, such as tyramine and histamine, are believed to act on chemicals in the brain, kicking off a series of events that leads to a migraine,” Migraine.com writes. “Because alcohol use can increase with stress, some researchers believe it is a combination of the alcohol and stress which sets migraine attack in motion.”
While more research is needed to fully understand why alcohol can exacerbate migraines in some people, it goes without saying that if you do get migraines regularly, it can be helpful to note your triggers and to try decreasing your alcohol intake. Researchers have also recommended that jotting down what you ate and drank before you got a migraine consistently to reflect on, minimising stress or harmful emotional strain, and keeping track of your triggers over time, might help you minimise the frequency of your headaches and the intensity alike.