Journal of Neurological Sciences (Turkish) 2017 , Vol 34 , Num 2
Head Bath: As a Specific Trigger For Migraine and Tension-Type Headaches
1University of Fırat, Faculty of Medicine, Neurology Department, Elazig, Turkey DOI : 10.24165/jns.10091.17


Aim: Head bath has recently been described as a trigger in migraine patients for migraine headaches. In this study we aimed to investigate the characteristic of headaches triggered by head bath in migraine patients.

Material and methods: Patients with headaches developing after head bath were identified reviewing medical records of 990 migraine patients registered to our Headache Unit and characteristics of headache were comprehensively evaluated in these cases by inviting them to control visit.

Results: It was found that head bath-triggered migraine headaches occurred in 36 of 990 ( 3.6 %) migraine patients with or without aura. In addition, in 14 (1.4 %) migraine patients, it was found that head bath-triggered non-migraine headaches with bilateral localization that are non-throbbing, less severe and shorter than migraine headaches and not accompanied by autonomic symptoms and that spontaneously resolve in most cases and can be prevented by hair drying. The non-migraine headaches developing in these cases met diagnostic criteria for episodic tension-type headaches.

Conclusion: In patients with migraine, interictal sensitization present at interictal period (between migraine headaches) can predispose onset of migraine and tension-type headaches. In some cases, onset of migraine headaches on some occasions while tension-type headaches on other occasions by head bath suggests that similar mechanisms are involved in the triggering migraine and tension-type headaches.


It was first reported by Ravishankar K. from India that head bath is a trigger that can induce migraine headaches (1). To our knowledge, no other study supporting this issue has been published from any other region in the world. It has been reported that reason for this could be genetic and/or different environmental factors (1). This study was devised to investigate whether head bath is a reason that triggers migraine headache and to determine whether non-migraine headaches with varying characteristics develop in relation with head bath in our patients with migraine.


The study includes 990 migraine patients with or without aura who were managed in Headaches Unit in Neurology Department of Firat University, Faculty of Medicine within prior 5 years; who had available medical records; and met the criteria of International Headache Society The International Classifacation of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD)-III beta (2). Medical records of all patients were reviewed. Fifty cases were identified in which headache develops following head bath. The patients identified were invited to our clinic by accessing address information from their files. A further medical history was obtained by questioning patients regarding headache characteristics. In all patients, physical and neurological examinations were normal, while routine blood tests, urinalysis and imaging studies including cranial computerized tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging were found to be within normal limits. These patients had neither systemic nor neurological disorders other than migraine that could cause headaches. The cases had no history of experiencing discomfort from any odor or perfume. There was no history of smoking, alcohol consumption or drug addiction. The study was approved by Local Ethics Committee. All patients gave written informed consent before participation.


Of the 50 cases included, 43 were women and 7 were men with a mean age of 35 years (min: 16-max: 70). 41 of the cases had migraine without aura and 9 had migraine with aura.

Migraine headaches, which had characteristics similar to commonly developing migraine headaches of the patient and met ICHD-III beta criteria, were developing after head bath, within 2 hours, in 36 of the cases included. Table 1 presents clinical characteristics of this group.

Table 1: Cases in which head bath-triggered migraine headaches

In 14 of the cases included, there were headaches which had differential characteristics than commonly developing migraine headaches of the patients. These were bilateral, less severe and shorter than migraine headaches and non-throbbing without accompanying autonomic symptoms, in which coldness, chilling, or burning sensation on scalp precedes and spontaneous resolution occurs in most cases. These headaches had similar features with tension-type headaches and met diagnostic criteria of such headaches (2).

Table 2 presents clinical characteristics of this group.

Table 2: Cases with head bath-related tension-type headache


In our study, we found that there were head bath-triggered migraine headaches in 36 of 990 migraine cases. In this regard, our results are consistent with those reported by Ravishankar K (1) In our country, bathing habituation is spilling hot water to whole body over head by using a bowl. Also, showering with hot water is one of the methods used for bathing. However it is less common to bath with cold or warm water. In the study by Ravishankar K., it was reported that warm or cold water are generally used for bathing in India (1). Bathing habituations are similar in both countries, but temperature of the water used is different. This suggests that temperature of water used is not the main factor in triggering migraine headache. Regardless of being hot or cold, sudden contact of water with a temperature different than skin temperature and decrease in skin temperature during evaporation of water over skin stimulate temperature-sensitive receptors at skin. It has been concluded that migraine is an episodic dysfunction of brainstem or diencephalic sensory modulation systems, as suggested by the finding of activations in the brain stem in PET scans during the acute attack (3,4). Likewise, it was recently shown that cutaneous thermal (hot and cold) pain thresholds and thermal pain tolerance thresholds were lower during interictal period (between migraine attacks) in patients with episodic and chronic migraine when compared normal individuals (5). That study suggests that episodic and chronic migraine subjects are more sensitive to thermal stimulation during the interictal period, suggesting interictal sensitization (5). Interictal sensitization may predispose patients with migraine to development of headaches. Authors proposed that the stimuli that cause no problem for a normal individual may trigger an attack in those predisposed to migraine (5).

In our 14 cases, non-migraine headaches developed after head bath which met diagnostic criteria for episodic tension-type headaches. It is likely that above-mentioned mechanisms may play a role in the onset of such headaches. As known, pericranial myofascial pain sensitivity is increased in patients with tension-type headaches. Peripheral sensitization of myofascial nociceptors could play a role in the increased pain sensitivity (6). In some cases, onset of migraine headaches on some occasions while tension-type headaches on other occasions by head bath suggests that similar mechanisms are involved in the triggering migraine and tension-type headaches. Previously, this type of headaches; head bath triggered tension-type headache, has not been reported. However, clinical characteristics of the cases, reported as type 2 bath-related headache (Type 2 BRH) in the literature, seem rather similar to our cases (7). Thus, we consider that it is appropriate to stratify type 2 BRH in the same category with our cases. Previous considerations on type 2 BRH by Mak W et al. are consistent with our opinion (8).

Stress, insomnia, skipping a meal and fatigue are the most common precipitating factors for migraine and tension-type headaches (9,10). In our cases, head bath has drawn attention as a factor triggering tension-type headaches. This triggering factor hasn"t been reported so far.

The fact that head bath-triggered migraine and tension-type headaches have not been reported in countries other than India and Turkey can be associated with genetic factors and variations in environmental factors, primarily in bathing habituations, among countries and societies.

It should be kept in mind that tension-type headaches could also be triggered as well as migraine headaches by head bath; thus, these patients should also be questioned about such headaches. Since onset of headache could be prevented by drying hairs after bath, medical therapy should be considered in cases of unresponsiveness to preventive measures.

Author Contributions: Concept: C.E., Design: C.E.; Supervision: Y.B.; Materials Data Collection and/or Processing: N.H.; Analysis and/or Interpretation: TK.İ.; Literature Search: Ş.A.; Writing: N.G., Critical Reviews: Y.S.

Conflict of Interest: No conflict of interest was declared by the authors.

Disclosure: The authors declared that this study has received no financial support.

Received by: 08 February 2017
Revised by: 20 April 2017
Accepted: 21 April 2017


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