Can Sex Be Causing Your Headaches?

Problem affects more than 1 out of 100 people. Could this be putting a damper on your sex life?

While about 1 percent of adults report having headaches -- sometimes severe ones -- during sex, an Illinois neurologist says headaches during sex may actually be much more common.

"Many people who experience headaches during sexual activity are too embarrassed to tell their physicians, and doctors often don't ask," Dr. Jose Biller, a Loyola University Medical Center headache specialist, said in a news release from the Loyola University Health System.

Biller, who's treated dozens of patients who've had headaches linked to sexual activity, is chair of university's department of neurology.

"Headaches associated with sexual activity can be extremely painful and scary," Biller said. "They also can be very frustrating, both to the individual suffering the headache and to the partner."

Most headaches related to sex are harmless. But some headaches can be a sign of life-threatening conditions such as bleeding in the brain, brain aneurysm, stroke and other kinds of injury in the brain.

"We recommend that patients undergo a thorough neurological evaluation to rule out secondary causes, which can be life-threatening," Biller said. "This is especially important when the headache is a first occurrence."

Men are three times more likely than women to suffer from headaches related to sex, according to Biller.

The three main types of headaches related to sex are:

  • A dull headache -- like a tension headache -- that starts in the head and neck before orgasm and gets worse with more sexual arousal.
  • A "thunderclap headache" that's intensely painful and starts during orgasm. These headaches can last for hours.
  • A headache that starts after sex and can be mild to extremely painful. These headaches are worse when people stand. These headaches, caused by an internal leak of spinal fluid, cause pain when the brain sags downward.

So what can be done to help? In some cases, drugs can help with pain relief and prevention. Other strategies include exercise, avoiding excess alcohol, weight control and counseling, Biller suggested.

More information

For details about benign sexual headaches, try the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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