Research has shown that headaches can have many adverse effects on our lives: from diminished concentration in class or at work to irritability in general. There have, however, been few studies on the effect on learning ability and mood. Two recent studies filled this gap and found that tension-type headaches are associated with negative mood and impaired learning ability.
Both studies were summarised in Frontiers of Neurology and both involved one group of participants completing a battery of tasks when they had a tension-type headache and again when they had no headache. Another group (the control group) was headache free on both occasions. In the “no headache” condition, the participants had not reported a headache for 24 hours prior to the assessment.
In the first study, 12 participants (6 with tension-type headache and 6 in the control group) completed a computerised battery measuring mood and aspects of learning ability. In the second study, 22 participants (7 tension-type headaches, 5 after tension-type headaches and 10 people from the control group) completed mood and learning tasks.
In the first study, having a headache was associated with an increase in negative mood both before and after the tasks. Three performance tasks showed impairments when the participants had headaches: logical reasoning was slower and less accurate and retrieval from memory was slower.
According to Dr Elliot Shevel, South Africa’s pioneer in the field of migraine surgery and the medical director of The Headache Clinic, results from the studies confirmed the increase in negative mood when a person has a tension-type headache, as well as impaired learning ability.
“The results confirmed impairments in the logical reasoning, and also showed that those with a tension-type headache were more easily distracted and experienced irritability. Effects did not continue after the headache had gone.”
These findings can have an impact on the performance of students and workers, as well as their relationships with colleagues and team members. “Negative mood and impaired learning ability adversely affect the quality of work,” says Dr. Shevel. “It is important to take note of these effects that reduce quality of life and ensure early diagnosis and effective treatment takes place.”