Pain from migraine & severe headache increases suicide risk

The pain from Migraines and severe headaches can make a person feel weary, isolated, and hopeless. A recent study also surmised this type of head pain may increase the likelihood of attempted suicide.1 Drs. Breslau, Schultz, Lipton, Peterson, Welch conducted a study to determine whether or not there was a greater risk of attempted suicide in Migraineurs and those with severe headaches vs. people without.

The participants in the study, randomly selected by phone, met diagnostic criteria according to the International Headache Society's International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition (ICHD-II). The more than 1100 subjects were split into three different groups; those with Migraine, individuals with severe non-Migraine headache, and respondents with had no record of anything more than a mild headache (this group used as the control).

The researchers asked participants in each group about the disabling nature of their Migraine and headache pain, how many work or school days they missed, and if housework or leisure activities were affected. Questions were asked at the beginning and end of the study regarding depression, anxiety, levels of pain intensity and any previous suicide attempts.

After following the groups for two years, researchers discovered that participants with Migraine and severe, non-Migraine headaches had a 4 times greater risk of attempting suicide than the subjects without Migraine or headache. The level of pain played a role in attempted suicide as well - study subjects with a higher level of Migraine and non-Migraine pain were at greater risk for attempted suicide. In fact, each time the pain intensity scale went up by one point, the risk of attempted suicide went up by 17%.

There are a few interesting points about this study. It appears the increased risk of attempted suicide may not be expressly related to Migraine and/or severe non-Migraine headaches, rather it is the level of pain that might be the important influence. Depression and anxiety, two conditions that are often comorbid with Migraine and headache disorders, were also assessed into the study. While these may play a role in attempted suicide, researchers determined that pain level was the strongest risk factor for suicide. Researchers also suggest that it would be beneficial to examine other pain conditions in conjunction with the question of attempted suicide.

My thoughts on pain and this topic are a bit complex. I understand what it feels like to have chronic, debilitating pain with no end in sight. Having said that, I've learned coping skills along the way that have helped me try to absorb, understand and live with the pain I'm in. A vital component missing from a Migraine management plan is learning how to emotionally "manage" this disease. Perhaps our Migraine management plan needs a mandatory overhaul. In addition to reducing the frequency and severity of Migraines, we need to teach coping skills to every Migraineur so no one feels so very hopeless.

References1. Breslau et al. Migraine Headaches and Suicide Attempt. Headache, March 9. 2.Leavitt, S.B., M.A., PhD. an Ugly Truth: Headache and Suicide Attempts. Pain News/Research Updates. March 15, 2012.

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