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Headaches From Anger

author image Dr. Sylvie Stacy
Sylvie Stacy is a physician with board-certification in preventive medicine. Her professional interests lie at the intersection of medicine and public health, with particular enthusiasm for medical communications, evidence-based medicine, and health information technology.
Headaches From Anger
An irritated driver expressing anger behind the wheel. Photo Credit: Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

Anger can damage the human body. A bout of anger lasting mere seconds can lead to both physical and psychological duress. Hormones rampage through the bloodstream, muscles flex tensely and the mind works overtime. The combination of these unwanted actions can result in a headache. Such a headache is no less valid than any other type of headache, but it does carry some distinction in terms of treatment and prevention.

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Headache Types Caused by Anger

A woman leaning back on the sofa with a headache.
A woman leaning back on the sofa with a headache. Photo Credit: AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images

The most common headache catalyzed by anger is the tension headache. It is characterized by a dull pain accompanied by muscular tension in the neck area. Some light and sound sensitivity can also be experienced. Generally, these headaches are a minor nuisance and are not debilitating. Anger can also lead to migraine headaches. Migraines are more ruthless than tension headaches in that the pain is often severe and pulsating. Unlike tension headaches, they generally occur on one side of the head and interfere with everyday tasks. They can also be associated with other symptoms such nausea, vomiting and blurred vision.

Causes of Headaches When Angry

An angry child clenching his teeth.
An angry child clenching his teeth. Photo Credit: Marzanna Syncerz/iStock/Getty Images

Anger isn’t a direct cause of headache but, rather, a secondary cause due to the state of the body while angry. For example, people who clench their teeth when angry are more likely to suffer from a headache. The grinding motion imparts stress to the facial muscles. Similarly, rage induces the body’s "fight-or-flight" mechanism, which leads to secretion of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This results in constriction of blood vessels with reduced oxygen and nutrient transport to the brain. The result is a headache.

Anger-Related Headache Prevention

A woman enjoying a power walk down the street.
A woman enjoying a power walk down the street. Photo Credit: Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The best treatment for headaches due to anger is reducing the triggers that cause anger. In fact, anger is less well controlled in people with either tension or migraine headaches than those who do not report chronic headaches. To control anger, practice taking deep breaths or counting slowly until the feeling passes. Leading an active lifestyle can also reduce headaches, so try to exercise regularly. Additionally, relaxing activities such as massages and yoga can release muscle tension and ease feelings of anger.

Anger-Induced Headache Treatment

A woman reaching for pain medicine from her bed.
A woman reaching for pain medicine from her bed. Photo Credit: paulo fernandes/iStock/Getty Images

Reducing anger is not an easy task or a quick fix. Headaches caused by anger can often be abated by taking the same types of pain medication used for headaches due to other causes. These include nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs -- such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) -- or other over-the-counter medicines for headaches and pain, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Some medicines may have undesirable side effects such as blood thinning and upset stomach. Moreover, frequent use of over-the-counter pain medicines can lead to rebound headaches when the drug is stopped. For these reasons, frequent headaches requiring medication should prompt a visit to your doctor.

Warning Signs

A man talking to his doctor at a desk.
A man talking to his doctor at a desk. Photo Credit: simonkr/iStock/Getty Images

Occasionally, headaches signal an urgent medical problem. Seek medical attention right away if you get a severe headache that comes on very suddenly or if you experience weakness, confusion or vision loss along with a headache.

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