Is there a link between high blood pressure and headaches?

Following a long and frustrating day, you can feel the familiar pounding of a headache coming on. Your friends keep telling you that it’s related to your high blood pressure…but is there truly a link?


Owen Wiseman

15 February 2018

Headaches are one of the most commonly experienced conditions globally with:

  • over 46% of the adult population reporting an acute headache,
  • 42% experiencing tension headaches,
  • 11% experiencing migraines, and
  • 3% for chronic daily headaches.

Canadians are no better off with 76.1% of males and 65.6% of females reporting at least one headache annually. If you are among those suffering the pain of the condition, the most likely culprit is a tension headache. These are headaches that cause a sensation of dull pain that feels as though it is clamping around your skull…much like a headband after an intense workout or hot yoga session.

Headache triggers

Triggers for these headaches are still not well-understood, but research is getting us closer. A study published in August analyzed 85 papers and looked at over 420 reported triggers. Of those, sleep and stress were the two most common triggers, and while maybe unsurprising, it is important that teams come to understand why triggers cause the pain.

Brain tissue actually has no pain sensors because it isn’t meant to be exposed to anything, especially hungry zombies looking for braaaaiiinnnnssss. So when someone has a headache, the pain is coming from sensors located around the head and neck region including muscles, joints, and blood vessels. These pain sensors can be activated by external triggers such as those from the environment or internal triggers such as hormones or neurotransmitters due to stress or lack of sleep.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is another common condition that impacts almost one-quarter of adults across the nation! So chances are, the average Canadian will know at least one person with the condition…but in actual fact, over 18% are unaware that they are afflicted. Blood pressure is simply a measure of the force that the blood exerts on the walls of blood vessels. The harder the heart has to work to circulate the blood through the body, the higher the pressure.

Medical sitcoms have made a normal blood pressure reading, 120/80, commonplace knowledge. However, hypertension would see numbers around 140/90 all the way to a hypertensive crisis at 180/110. Now while these numbers are subject to numerous factors, and therefore, should only be interpreted by your doctor, they do make us think how they could connect to headaches.

Some believe that the increased flow due to hypertension could put increased pressure on the vessels, therefore activating their pain sensors, leading to the sensation of a tension-headache. The mechanism connecting the two is not well understood, and there is still much to learn, but some studies have shown that antihypertensive drugs, or drugs that lower blood pressure, were somewhat effective at relieving headaches. This doesn’t mean that anyone should go out and get these medications for headache relief, but it does signal a relationship…if only dating were so straightforward.

To manage your headaches and/or hypertension, here are a few tips:

  • Electro-what?! Electrical stimulation is becoming more prevalent as a treatment option for a variety of conditions as medical professionals and researchers begin to better understand the body’s nervous system. These teams are trying to determine whether stimulating certain nerves could help alleviate symptoms and/or decrease the frequency of the headache itself. In a group experiencing chronic type tension headaches, those treated with electrical stimulation reported fewer headaches overall. The research is young, but could be a discussion to open with your primary care provider.
  • Symptomatic relief. Ginkgo biloba has been touted as a powerful circulatory tonic. Studies have shown its ability to reduce blood pressure due to a component known as polyphenols. These agents have been shown to promote the dilation of blood vessels which decreases blood pressure, and also protects against damaging molecules that form under stress. Products such as Ginkgo and Ginkgo Extra provide the herb in easy tincture and tablet forms.
  • Show your heart some care. Hawthorn berry is another herbal remedy that is widely used for cardiac complaints. Hawthorn has a variety of actions such as acting like an antioxidant and a positive inotropic, something that causes an increased force of contraction. In addition to these actions, hawthorn is a powerful anti-inflammatory that downregulates or subdues cytokines, agents that can induce inflammation throughout the target area. Tinctures such as Heart Care are an excellent way to get a dose of the herb.
  • Exercise. It goes without saying that exercise carries benefits. In those experiencing cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension, high levels of leisurely physical activity reduce blood pressure, and help to normalize cholesterol. Living in Canada means every season comes with its own variety of activities that can get you out and moving.


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