The Migraine-Depression Connection

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The throbbing, pulsing pain of regular migraines can rob you of so much—including your happiness. Research increasingly suggests a link between migraines and depression. Fortunately, medications and lifestyle changes that help one condition may have benefits for both.

Pain May Provoke Sadness

One recent study suggests women with migraines have close to a 50% greater risk for depression than those without severe headache. Another found that as many as 4 in 10 people with chronic migraines develop the condition.

It’s little wonder that frequent migraines dampen your mood. After all, coping with intense, long-lasting pain makes it difficult to stay positive. Migraines can cause you to alter your routine, and they can prevent you from enjoying your normal activities. Anxiety about your migraines can make matters worse. You may even begin to cancel plans in advance, fearing the onset of the next attack.

Genes, Brain Biology Play a Role

But there’s more to the story than meets the eye. For one thing, doctors suspect the association doesn’t just work in one way. People with depression also appear to be at higher risk of developing migraines.

Scientists continue to unravel the reasons. Migraines and depression may share similar underlying biological mechanisms. For instance, genetics could leave you prone to the effects of both conditions, while shifting levels of hormones or neurotransmitters could spark their onset.

Another possibility: An additional external factor may trigger depression and migraines. One recent study suggests chronic stress could link the two. Constant pressure actually changes the way your brain functions, producing both penetrating pain and persistent sadness.

Smart Strategies Ease Aches and Depression

If you have chronic migraines, work with your doctor on developing a plan for controlling them. Keeping your pain in check may also boost your mood.

Antidepressant medications, including Elavil (amitriptyline) and Effexor (venlafaxine), alter your brain chemicals in a way that both improves your mood and reduces your risk for migraine pain. Your doctor may recommend that you take them before a migraine begins to prevent or lessen its effects.

Exercising and eating a nutritious diet can also ward off both head pain and depression. And relaxation techniques can help you cope with stress before it becomes a bigger burden. You can practice some, like deep breathing and meditation, on your own. Others, like biofeedback, are easier to do with a professional’s help. Biofeedback helps you learn to control such functions as blood pressure and pain response.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 12

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