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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Sandra de Helen
    7 years ago

    Friends asked me this on Sunday. I told them it was obvious. Migraine first. If I go 4 days without migraine, depression lifts entirely. I can believe that migraines are gone forever and begin to live a “normal” life. I fall for it *every* time. I do. I’m eternally optimistic! And I’m rewarded about once a year with a month or more of no headaches. The rest of the time is brutal.

  • Kathy Anderson
    7 years ago

    This is very interesting to me. Makes total sense! I’ve always wondered about mood and headache being related and now my pet theory is confirmed.

  • Sarah Scott Blankenship
    7 years ago

    I suffer from both. Both onset about the same time, age 12, so I don’t know which came first. I do know that I have fewer migraines when I’m on antidepressants. I don’t know if it is because I take better care of myself or because of the medications. I don’t really care, as long as it helps.

  • Barbara Richards
    7 years ago

    are migrains and alzheimeas related.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    There is no evidence linking Migraine and Alzheimer’s.

  • Tony Trenton
    8 years ago

    Migraines and depression

    What comes first ?

    In my case the migraine upsets my thinking process and debilitates me so that I cannot rely on my thinking processes

    There is nothing more depressing than finding that you cannot depend on your own brain and thinking processes from day to day.

  • Tammy Elder Rome
    8 years ago

    I have noticed that I am irritable for 8-12 hours before the onset of a migraine. I call it my “emotional aura”. I also find that I am irritable after a severe migraine that puts me in bed for more than a day. Otherwise, I am a pretty happy, relaxed person. Migraines make me “grinch-like”.

  • Tammy Elder Rome
    7 years ago

    I think you are probably right. When I first learned about pro/postdrome it started to explain the sudden mood/energy changes I was having. Sometimes I can even warn my family that one is coming. I always wondered why my mood symptoms never quite fit any of the “depression” criteria. Antidepressants certainly never helped.

  • Teri Robert
    8 years ago

    Tammy, what you’re describing is probably the prodrome and postdrome phases of the Migraine. For more information, take a look at http://migraine.com/migraine-basics/migraine-phases/

  • Barbara Collins
    8 years ago

    My two cents: I notice I get depressed around the migraine days and as soon as I take the triptans, it improves greatly within an hour or two. I wonder if there is a serotonin afffect with these medications that could account for this.

  • Barbara Collins
    8 years ago

    Substance P? Can you put this is lay terms?

  • Murugesh Arumugam
    8 years ago

    Barbara, It’s a good point, but triptan also have additional action on CGRP and substance P secretions, so is that we can conclude due to 5HT only?

  • Teri Robert
    8 years ago

    Barbara, Migraines make our levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters fluctuate. The triptans stop the Migrainous process and stop that fluctuation.

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    Triptans are indeed selective serotonin receptor agonists… not a coincidence they help your mood. 🙂

  • TiciaNiemi
    8 years ago

    I am a long time sufferer of both classic and Hemiplegic Migraines. I am not depressed when I do not have migraine attacks. I do get depressed when I have attacks. This is due to the fact that there is so much pressure in my head that the serotonin can not work properly. Also there is pressure on the nerves system and this causes other kinds of issues, like heart palpitations, numbness on the right side of my body, and slow digestion that leads to acid reflex. I know there is not a nerve test that can be done during a migraine, but I know my body and I can feel my nerve’s during a migraine attack. In reality I am a active, loving, caring, outgoing person. The depression is a symptom of MIGRAINE not the reason for the migraine.

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