It’s a downer to live with headaches so awful that they
make you throw up or send you to bed in a darkened room.
So you might expect
depression to be more common in migraine sufferers than in the general
population, and that’s exactly what researchers have found. But it seems that
the link may be more than just psychological.
The latest study to look at the migraine-mood connection
included over 36,000 women enrolled in the National Institutes of Health-funded
Women’s Health Study. These women, who were depression-free when the research
began, were followed for an average of 14 years. During that time, women with a
history of migraines, either currently or in the past, were 40 percent more
likely to develop depression than those with no such history.
Some migraines are preceded by auras—visual disturbances such
as flashing lights, zigzag lines, or a temporary loss of vision. In this study,
the risk of depression in migraine sufferers was the same whether or not auras occurred.
One limitation of the study is that it included only women
age 45 and older, but migraines typically begin earlier in life. It’s possible
that focusing on an older age group may have skewed the findings. Yet if anything,
the results might be a bit on the low side. Previous research had suggested
that depression might be twice as common in migraine sufferers as in those who
don’t have headaches.
Researchers are still sorting out exactly how depression and
migraines may be linked. Migraines cause severe throbbing or pulsing pain in
one area of the head, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or intense sensitivity to
light and sound. The headaches can be debilitating enough to drive people to their
beds, and the misery sometimes lasts for days.
On a psychological level, living with this kind of recurring
pain can be stressful. For people prone to depression, it’s certainly plausible
that the stress might contribute to their dark moods.
may play a role as well. Researchers from Leiden
University Medical Center in the Netherlands studied over 2,600 members
of a large extended family. They found evidence for a shared genetic factor in
depression and migraines, particularly migraines with auras.
On a physiological level, genes could affect molecular
pathways that are involved in both conditions. Research suggests
that the diseases may share common pathways for serotonin and glutamate, two
key brain chemicals.
The bottom line: There’s still a lot to be learned about the
relationship between migraines and depression. But the two often occur
together. And when they do, getting help for both may help maximize the
management of each.