Migraine and Depression

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

Doctors and researchers have found links between migraine and depression for some time. Several studies have shown that if you have one of these disorders, you are more likely to have the other.1,2

Both migraine and depression are common. Migraine impacts nearly 40 million people in the United States, or almost 1 in 6 people. Of these, 4 out 5 people with migraine are women.3,4

As with migraine, 1 in 5 Americans will have a mental illness at some point in their lives. Depression is a mental illness and is the leading cause of disability in the world. Women have depression at much higher rates than men.5,6

Depression and migraine rates help to understand the number of people impacted. But these disorders commonly happen together for more than 1 reason.7

Why do migraine and depression occur together?

Several studies have shown that people with migraine and depression have changes in their brain shape and how their brain works. Some of these changes include:7

  • Differences in how the brain develops
  • Reduced brain size
  • Imbalance of certain chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain
  • Imbalance of electrical activity in certain areas of the brain

Genes, environment, and hormones

Doctors have also learned that migraine and depression can occur together because of genes, environment, and hormones.7

Some studies say that migraine and depression might run in families. This might be because of changes (mutations) in genes. Doctors are not sure how much the environment plays a role in how these diseases are passed down in families. More research is needed to confirm the link between genes and the environment.7

Migraine and depression occur 2 to 3 times more often in women than in men. This may be because of the complex effects of sex hormones on these conditions. More than 1 hormone may be involved.7

Importance of treating depression with migraine

Chronic pain and suffering from migraines can take a toll on your mental health. Treating depression might help both your mental health and your migraine symptoms. Benefits of treating your depression include:7

  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced migraine progression and disability
  • Reduction of other migraine-related symptoms, like fatigue and brain fog
  • Improvement in shared conditions (comorbidities), like sleeping problems
  • Reduced chronic stress, which can worsen migraine
  • Reduced social and job stresses, which can reduce migraine triggers

Every 12 minutes, someone in the United States dies from suicide. Treating depression may help to reduce suicide rates among people with severe depression and migraines.7

Treatment options

Fortunately, treatment is available if you have both migraine and depression. Options include:7,8

  • Drug therapy – Many options are available, depending on your symptoms
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Also known as talk therapy
  • Biofeedback – Allows you to help control your body’s response to pain

Keeping track of your migraine symptoms can help you better manage them. Rate how severe your symptoms are, how often they occur, and how long they last. This will help you learn your migraine triggers, as well as help you prepare to treat migraines before the pain becomes too severe.9

Your doctor might suggest other treatments to combat both depression and migraines. Working with your doctor, you can develop a treatment plan that works best for you.

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