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Identifying & Treating Sex Headaches

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Sex headaches are caused by sexual activity and feel like a dull ache in your head and neck that builds up as sexual excitement increases; they are mostly harmless.

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What is a sex headache?

Sex headaches are headaches that are brought on by sexual activity. They can be from a more serious underlying cause or could be a "primary headache" disorder, which has no other underlying cause.

Symptoms with no underlying cause include a headache during sexual activity either before or during an orgasm. If there is an underlying cause, symptoms may also include a loss of consciousness, nausea or vomiting, neck pain or stiffness, double vision, or numbness and weakness.

Treatments include medication to alleviate headache symptoms as well as procedures for any underlying causes.

Your headache can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If you have had symptoms, you should be seen by your healthcare provider.

Symptoms of a sex headache

The headache will usually be the only symptom of a primary sex headache. Having other symptoms with a headache may mean it’s from a more serious cause.

There are two main types of primary sex headaches that are different in timing and nature of the headache. The symptoms of the two main types are:

  • Headache during sexual activity leading up to orgasm ("preorgasmic headache"): You may experience a dull headache in the back of the head on both sides that steadily gets worse with increasing sexual excitement.
  • Headache during orgasm ("orgasmic headache"): During an orgasmic headache, you experience a sudden explosive headache that occurs right before or at the time of orgasm.

Symptoms due to an underlying cause

People who experience headaches during sex due to an underlying cause (secondary) may experience additional symptoms that are a sign of an illness that may be life-threatening. These may include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Double vision
  • Numbness or weakness

Sex headache quiz

Take a quiz to find out if you have sex headache.

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What causes a sex headache

Sex headaches are often more common in males, middle-aged people, and in people with other headache disorders such as migraines, exertional headache, or tension headaches.

Primary sex headaches are sex headaches that do not have another underlying cause. The reason someone has primary sex headaches is not known. Some researchers believe that primary sex headaches are from excessive contraction of neck and jaw muscles during sexual activity. Others believe primary sex headaches may be from changes in blood flow to the brain during sexual activity.

  • Treatment options and prevention for sex headache

Primary sex headaches without an underlying cause can be treated with medications to prevent or control the symptoms. These include:

  • Triptan medications to treat headache symptoms: Triptans are medications typically used for treatment of migraine headaches. They narrow blood vessels in the brain that may be causing the pain and decrease the release of inflammatory substances. Specific examples include sumatriptan (Alsuma) and zolmitriptan (Zomig).
  • Medications to prevent sex headaches: For people who consistently experience headaches during sex, your doctor may recommend taking medication before having sex to prevent the sex headache, as opposed to waiting for the headache to start and then taking medication. Medications commonly prescribed for this include indomethacin and propranolol (Inderal).
  • Treatment of underlying causes: Treatment varies depending on the specific cause. These may include medications to lower blood pressure and prevent seizures, medications to break up blood clots, or surgical procedures to fix abnormal blood vessels.

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Sex headache quiz

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When to seek further consultation for sex headache

If you are experiencing symptoms of a sex headache, you should consider going to your doctor to determine the correct treatment approach.

If you experience sudden severe headache, lose consciousness, or have other symptoms

You should go to the emergency room or call an ambulance right away if you experience a sudden severe headache or any other symptoms, such as a loss of consciousness, neck pain or stiffness, double vision, or numbness or weakness. These symptoms may be from a serious underlying cause that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment.

Questions your doctor may ask to determine sex headache

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • How long has your current headache been going on?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Are you sick enough to consider going to the emergency room right now?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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References

  1. Sex headaches. Mayo Clinic. Published May 4, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link
  2. Primary headache associated with sexual activity (orgasmic and pre-orgasmic headache). American Migraine Foundation. Published July 10, 2016. American Migraine Foundation Link
  3. Maheshwari PK, Pandey A. Unusual headaches. Annals of Neurosciences. 2012;19(4):172-6. NCBI Link
  4. Imarhiagbe FA. Headache associated with sexual activity: From the benign to the life threatening. Sahel Medical Journal. 2016;19(1):1-4. Sahel Medical Journal Link
  5. Sex headaches. Mayo Clinic. Published May 4, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link
  6. Frese A, Gantenbein A, Marziniak M, Husstedt IW, Goadsby PJ, Evers S. Triptans in orgasmic headache. Cephalalgia. 2016;26(12):1458-1461. NCBI Link
  7. Teague S. Blood clots. RadiologyInfo.org. Updated on August 15, 2018. RadiologyInfo.org Link
  8. Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation). Mayo Clinic. Published June 9, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link