Smartphones Could Be Making Headaches Worse & Less Responsive To Pain Medication, Study Finds

Sameer Uddin and Michelle Macias play Pokemon Go on their smartphones outside of Nintendo's flagship store.
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A recent study looked at the association between smartphone use and headaches, reported CNN. Researchers wanted to determine if smartphones could contribute to worsening headache symptoms.

The study, which took place at a care center in India and was published Wednesday in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice, involved 400 participants who reported having a primary headache condition, including migraines and tension headaches. Participants were given a questionnaire assessing their smartphone use and headache symptoms. They were then split into two groups — those who possessed a smartphone device and those who owned a mobile device limited to calling features.

The researchers compared the surveys and found that 96 percent of smartphone users were more likely to take pain medications in an attempt to alleviate headache symptoms, while non-smartphone users were only 81 percent likely. Additionally, 84 percent of smartphone users reported feeling little to no relief from pain medication, while 94 percent of non-smartphone users were able to feel relief from the medication.

The scientists also discovered that smartphone users reported a higher occurrence of aura, which pertains to a sensation felt prior to a migraine or epilepsy attack, while this occurred less for non-smartphone participants.

Between the two groups, there was no difference in severity of headaches, how often they occurred, and for how long. The study also did not determine if the smartphone users that were studied engaged in excessive smartphone use.

A woman holds her head in her hand.
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Dr. Deepti Vibha, the author of the study, commented on the research group’s results.

“The associations found in the study do prompt the possibility that smartphone use may be a potential trigger for headache worsening, and there might be unexplored mechanisms which future studies may unravel.”

Vibha added that if smartphone users require more painkillers to abort headaches and have a higher pill count per month, this behavior is a good indication that the connection between smartphone use and headaches needs to be looked at further in longitudinal studies.

Previous research points to several possible causes for increased and worsened headaches among smartphone users. Using a smartphone requires a person to bend over at the neck, which can put a strain on the spine that often leads to headaches. Additionally, eye strain may play a role in the frequency of headaches, due to improper focusing and holding the phone too close to the face.

The evidence found by the researchers is unable to definitively say whether smartphone use causes headaches, but it does add to an increasing body of research studying the link between technology and pain.