Migraine and Mental Health: What It Means

 
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In a survey with over 14,500 Migraine Buddy users, it was revealed that 74% of the community has an existing secondary health condition on top of their migraine. The two most common mental health conditions experienced by users are depression (82%) and social anxiety (50%). Whether these mental health conditions are pre-existing or have developed as a result of experiencing migraine, it does not change the fact that migraine and mental health are closely tied to each other. 

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Given the challenges that migraine warriors face when navigating life with migraine, it can take a heavy toll on one’s mental health and make them more vulnerable to developing conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.

In fact, a review of clinical studies has shown that depression is almost twice more prevalent in people with migraine than in those unaffected by migraine [1]. There is also a higher risk of “affective and anxiety disorders” in subjects with migraine in contrast with people without migraine [2].

 

The link between migraine attacks and mental health

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Comorbid (co-existing) depression and anxiety are revealed to be closely linked to various negative impacts on people with migraine in terms of poorer quality of life, higher risk of medication overuse, and higher medical costs [3, 4]. Therefore, there is an important need to understand the relationship between migraine and mental disorders in order to bring about better outcomes for migraine warriors. 

However, despite substantial studies being conducted on this subject, the exact link between migraine and mental health conditions are still not completely clear to scientists. In the specific case of depression, research suggests a bidirectional relationship – meaning that we cannot know for sure if there is a direct impact on mental health by migraine or whether pre-existing depression leads to the onset of migraine attacks [5].

A review published in The Journal of Headache and Pain have identified several key players that are possibly involved in the associations between migraine and various mental disorders:

 
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Serotonin

It has been commonly hypothesized that an imbalance of neurochemicals, in particular serotonin, activates a cascade of events that leads to migraine symptoms [6]. Some studies support the theory that low serotonin levels in the brain are responsible for this facilitation while newer studies found that this may not always be the case [7].

 
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Dopamine 

Dopamine is another possible key player involved in the mechanisms of comorbidity between migraine with aura, depression, and anxiety [5, 8]. This is particularly due to dopamine’s involvement in pain modulation in the brain [9].    

 
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Genetics

Among other affective disorders, bipolar disorder demonstrated the highest heritability, “with a consistent overlap with migraine” [5]. Various existing literature suggested that there may be some genes that predisposes a person to both bipolar disorder and migraine [10, 11, 12].  


Many of us struggle in one way or another to manage our migraine on top of maintaining a healthy mental state. Even though there may be days where it seems difficult to go on, know that you are never alone and the community is available to hear you out! If you ever need to chat with someone, feel free to reach out to fellow migraine warriors in the chat groups available in our app below: