Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Migraine, Comorbid Depression & Brain Volume Research

According to a very small study in the journal Neurology there are observable differences in the brains of people living with comorbid Migraine Disease and Major Depressive Disorder. Patients with both conditions were observed to have smaller brain volume than that of people living with just one these conditions or neither condition.1

toc01People living with Migraine are twice as likely as non-Migraineurs to also experience Major Depressive Disorder. Research has established that Migraine increases the risk of depression and depression increases the risk of Migraine. We also know that treating both conditions in patients experiencing both improves outcomes over treating just one condition alone.

Knowing that brain differences have been observed separately in Migraineurs and in patients living with depression, these researchers wanted to learn more about the brains of people living with both conditions.

Data from the AGES-Reykjavik Study was used to learn more about the brains of older people living with comorbid Migraine and Major Depressive Disorder in this study. The original Reykjavik Study was established in Iceland in 1967 to look at cardiovascular disease. The AGES-Reykjavik Study was later initiated to look at the surviving population from the original Reykjavik Study and examine risk factors, genetic susceptibility and environmental factors in relation to disease and disability in old age.

Interesting aspects of this research:

  • Patients with comorbid Migraine and Major Depressive Disorder had reduced total brain volume and also had less white matter volume and gray matter volume than others.
  • The observed brain volume difference for patients with comorbid Migraine and depression was the same when researchers broke the study subjects down according to diagnosis of Migraine with Aura or Migraine without Aura.
  • No interaction between non-Migraine headache and depression was observed by the researchers.
  • Reduced brain volume might be an indication of cognitive decline, though the researchers note other studies have found no cognitive decline associated with Migraine.
  • The researchers speculate the combination of Migraine and Major Depressive Disorder and the observed brain differences might constitute a distinct condition requiring unique treatment from the way either condition is treated on its own.
  • They believe more research is needed with larger populations to confirm their findings and determine what mechanism leads to reduced brain volume in patients with comorbid Migraine and Major Depressive Disorder.

Any questions about this research? Please share them in the comments.

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

1. Larus Gudmundsson, et al. "Migraine, depression, and brain volume." Neurology. Published online before print May 22, 2013, doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318295d69e


  • Vicki
    6 years ago

    I was hoping to see more comments on this. I am not one to be paranoid when new studies come out, but thought this was rather interesting. I would like (or maybe not!) to see more studies on migraine/brain volume/cognitive decline.

    I’m not a highly educated woman (college), but I am intelligent. Other than the occasional good day, I have trouble articulating my words. I know what I want to say, I just can’t seem to find the right wording that I want. (I’m having trouble just writing this.) I always have a fear of coming across as a ditz to people, because I know inside, I’m not. It’s so frustrating. I know that it has held me back in life. If someone asks me for an example of something, I go blank. If my memory was a little better, that would help!

    I’ve ALWAYS wondered if the migraines and daily headaches were the cause of this. I never really thought about talking to a doctor about it til now, because I didn’t think there would be anything that could be done. But maybe there’s a medication for it…….

  • debbiedionne
    6 years ago

    I have been treated for MDD, GAD, PTSD, ADD, Extreme Migraines, and many other conditions for years. Multiple chemical sensitivities, light, noise have bothered me since I was a young teen.

    What, I wonder, and when, might there be something that might help me not take so many different medications, not have to see so many different doctors, and still not suffer daily with pain, confusion, et al???

  • Poll