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Have a headache? It could be your internal clock

Findings from a new study could change the way headaches are treated.
Man with a headache.
Posted at 2:18 PM, Mar 31, 2023

Researchers from UTHealth Houston released a study that indicated that cluster headaches and migraines are “strongly associated” with circadian rhythms. 

The researchers used a meta-analysis of all available research on cluster headaches and migraines that included circadian rhythms. They also looked at the time of headaches. 

The study’s authors said that 70% of cluster headaches were tied to circadian rhythms, with peaks occurring between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. There were also seasonal peaks in the spring and autumn. 

The researchers found that 50% of migraines were tied to circadian rhythms, with peaks occurring between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

“We became interested in this topic because some of our patients here at UTHealth Houston, and many cases in the literature, report headaches that happen at the same time each day,” Dr. Mark Burish, faculty member at UTHealth Houston, said in a press release. “We wanted to investigate that more, and we were surprised at just how much these headaches are linked to the circadian clock.”

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The researchers said there are some differences between cluster headaches and migraines. Cluster headaches generally can last for a few minutes up to three hours. Migraines can last all day.

Migraines can be felt anywhere in the head, while cluster headaches tend to involve only one part of the head. 

“A better understanding of headache timing might eventually lead to medications that prevent the headaches at those times or manage painful episodes better,” said Dr. Seung-Hee Yoo, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, severe headaches affect about 15% of U.S. adults, with women twice as likely as men to suffer.