Expert Review: Migraine and depression

Has anyone ever told you that you probably get migraines because you're depressed?

Doctors talk about links between migraine and depression, noting that people often have both migraines and mood problems. Some people argue about which comes first -- the migraine or the depression.

A new study that will be published in the journal Headache next year adds more information to the important link between migraine and depression that helps answer this "chicken or egg" question. In this study, researchers followed a group of over 15,000 individuals 12 years of age and older. Interviews were conducted every two years for a total of seven interviews.

Here are the important study findings:

  • People with migraine were more likely to develop depression than those without migraine. Among people with migraines at the beginning of the study, 22 percent developed depression compared with 15 percent of those without migraines developing depression.
  • After adjusting for other possible factors that might influence the risk for developing depression, migraine sufferers were 60 percent more likely to develop depression than individuals without migraine.
  • Although depression initially appeared to increase the risk for developing migraine, this relationship was accounted for by stress and childhood trauma. After accounting for these factors, having depression was NOT a risk factor for developing migraines.
    So if you have migraines and depression, it's likely that your migraines increased your risk of developing a mood problem. On the other hand, you probably didn't develop migraines because you were depressed.

You can check your mood by answering these two questions in a depression screening tool called the Patient Health Questionnaire-2:
How often have you been bothered over the last 2 weeks by:

  • Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
  • Having little interest or pleasure in doing things?

If you answered more than half of the days or nearly every day for either one or both of these, you may be having problems with your mood and you should talk to your doctor.

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