Migraine and Depression

Doctors and researchers have long drawn a link between migraine and depression. Several studies have shown that the presence of one of these disorders increases the risk of a person suffering from the other. Depression and anxiety are now being called bi-directionally co-morbid, so if you have one clinical problem, you are at greater risk of developing the other.

Migraines and depression may be related several ways. They both may be caused by similar brain chemicals. Also, because migraines are responsible for severe pain and disability, the migraine attacks and reduced quality of life may lead to a depressed mood, while the mood changes may trigger migraines, as can many other conditions.

Studies on depression and migraine

A 2010 Dutch study of 2,652 distant relatives found that 360 participants suffered from migraines, while 977 had depression. In the study, a quarter of the people with migraines also suffered from depression, which is twice the rate of depression seen in the family members who didn’t suffer from migraine. Researchers believe the data points to a possible genetic link between depression and migraine. The researchers said it is more likely that they are caused by related genes rather than one disorder causing the other. This is called a bidirectional association and that link to depression isn’t seen with other types of headaches.

Other research has found that people with migraines are more likely to suffer from other mental or mood disorders, which include anxiety and panic attacks, bipolar disorder, as well as depression.

Migraine sufferers develop depression five times more often than people without migraines.

A 2008 survey by the National Headache Foundation found that of those polled:

  • 92% said their lives would be happier if they didn’t suffer from headaches
  • 80% had symptoms of depression, but only 52% have been diagnosed with depression
  • 79% had energy loss
  • 75% experienced difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • 71% said they feel more depressed when suffering from depression
  • 68% loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  • 67% sad mood and difficulty concentrating

Symptoms of depression

  • Changing in eating habits, such as overeating and loss of appetite
  • Feelings of sadness, unhappiness, hopelessness or pessimism
  • Irritability, agitation, restlessness or frustration such as the inability to sit still, pacing or hand-wringing
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once pleasurable
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Lack of energy, fatigue, tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, decision making or remembering
  • Changes in sleep, such as insomnia or increased sleep
  • Unexplained physical problems such as headaches, pains, cramps, back ache, digestive problems
  • Crying for no apparent reason

Certain antidepressant medications, including some SNRIs, have successfully been used to prevent migraines, which further supports the theory that the two disorders are connected.

You can better manage your migraine symptoms by keeping an accurate account of each migraine attack in your migraine journal. Rate the severity of your symptoms, how often they occur and how long they last. This will help learn your migraine triggers as well as help you prepare to treat migraines before the pain becomes too severe.

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Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010