Managing Migraines and Depression

Headaches and depression are linked.
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People with migraines are more susceptible to depression, and having both conditions can significantly impact a person's quality of life. Let's explore the complex, biological link between migraines and depression, and how both conditions can be managed effectively.

Understanding the Link between Migraine and Depression

Scientific studies reveal that the relationship between migraines and depression is a two-way street. The same genes that can cause some migraines sufferers to be at greater risk of developing clinical depression may also put depressed patients at greater risk for developing migraines.

Research also suggests that migraines and depression don't always have to occur as a consequence of the other. The genetic pathways associated with either condition can allow a person to develop both migraine headaches and depression independently.

Why Is There a Link?

Scientists cannot say for sure, but the same chemicals in the brain, especially serotonin, play an important role in both depression and migraines. For instance, low serotonin in the brain has been linked to depression. Likewise, a drop in serotonin levels may trigger a migraine attack in certain people.

Identifying Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a serious condition that requires medical attention. If you do suffer from signs or symptoms like the ones below, be sure to seek medical guidance.

  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or pessimism
  • Heightened agitation and restlessness
  • Constant movement, pacing or hand-wringing
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Extreme fatigue and loss of energy
  • Poorer concentration and decision making ability
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in sleep pattern - either too much or too little sleep
  • Unexplained crying
  • Physical aches and pains throughout the body for no apparent reason

Establish a Healthcare Team

The mechanisms of a migraine and depression go hand in hand, so it's important to choose a neurologist and psychiatrist that will work together to fully evaluate your symptoms and treatment options. Remember, migraines are not simply a symptom of depression, but a disorder on its own.

In addition to working with your physicians, you might also enlist the services of a psychotherapist and social worker to help manage your health and lifestyle. Cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with meditation and breathing techniques have shown to be beneficial for reducing migraine and depressive symptoms in some patients.

Evaluate Your Medication Options

When it was discovered that the biological factors that make some of us more vulnerable to depression can also make us more vulnerable to migraines, it was also uncovered that antidepressants can reduce the severity and frequency of migraines. However, finding the right treatment regimen can prove challenging, and studies have shown mixed results regarding the ability of any one drug to eliminate all symptoms in patients.

Two examples of antidepressants that may ease your migraines and improve your mood include:

  • Elavil (amitriptyline) — a tricyclic antidepressant
  • Effexor (venlafaxine) — a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor

Your doctor may also prescribe more traditional migraine medications, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), in addition to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for your depression.

What Does This Mean for Me?

It's important to seek out help if you are suffering from symptoms of depression or other mental illness, like anxiety, in addition to your migraines. While treating one may help the other, these are two complex diseases that require the careful attention of a doctor. Take good care of your body and your mind — there are effective therapies out there.

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Article Sources
  • Casucci, G., Villani, V., & Finocchi, C. (2010). Therapeutic strategies in migraine patients with mood and anxiety disorders: physiopathological basis. Neurological Sciences, Jun;31 Suppl 1:S99-101.
  • Finocchi, C., Villani, V., & Casucci, G. (2010). Therapeutic strategies in migraine patients with mood and anxiety disorders: clinical evidence. Neurological Sciences, Jun;31 Suppl 1:S95-8.
  • National Headache Foundation. Depression and Headache.