If you suffer regular migraines and you spend a lot of time on your smartphone, you might want to put your phone down sometimes, a new report finds.
Researchers found folks who use their smartphones a lot—and many of us use smartphones for everything from talking to updating social media, listening to music and online shopping—and have headaches or migraines also tend to take more medications than those with headaches who do not use smartphones.
The study can’t prove it’s the smartphone that makes the headaches worse, only that it might be the culprit, researchers said.
“Although the cause of association of headache with smartphone use is not clear, this study finds an association of smartphone use in headache patients in terms of increased pill count and less relief with painkillers,” said lead researcher Deepti Vibha, an associate professor in the department of neurology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India.
In an editorial accompanying the new report, co-author Heidi Moawad, of the department of medical education at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, wrote, “These results raise an important issue because people rely so heavily on mobile devices.”
Of course, cutting back on using a smartphone can be unrealistic for many people, even those who suffer from headaches. “It’s likely that the devices will be modified so that they can provide the same convenience without causing problems like headaches, eye strain or neck pain. Who knows—maybe the technology will even be modified in a way that helps improve these issues,” Moawad said.
For the study, researchers collected data on 400 people with various types of headaches, including migraine and tension headaches. Participants reported their smartphone use, headaches and medications. In all, 206 used smartphones.
Those who used the devices were more likely to take painkillers for headaches than those who don’t, and smartphone users took an average of eight pills per month, compared with five pills among those who didn’t use smartphones. The study authors noted no difference in how often headaches occurred, how long they lasted or how bad they were between smartphone users and nonusers.
Researchers pointed out a major limitation of the study: All data were self-reported by the participants, so errors in memory might skew the data.
It’s also important to note that many factors can influence migraines, including education levels, socioeconomic status and access to care, not of which was not taken into account.
That means the biggest takeaway from this study may be a simple nudge to be mindful of how often we’re on our phones.