Depression and Migraines

If you've ever experienced the throbbing agony of a migraine headache, you are undoubtedly familiar with the way it can disrupt your life and cause most other activities of the day to become insignificant and unworthy of the strain of focus.

You may not be surprised to learn that researchers have recently discovered a link between this disruptive anguish and that of clinical depression.

Several recent Canadian studies have found a strong but unexplained link between migraine headaches and depression.

Many mental health professionals have likely noticed that a large percentage of their patients also experience migraines and it was this observed co-occurrence that prompted some Canadian researchers to conduct a study on the subject. Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario evaluated 206 consecutive patients at a local psychiatric clinic. They used a structured clinical interview to determine a psychiatric diagnosis and also had patients complete a self report scale based on the diagnostic criteria for headache.

Results showed that 67 per cent of these patients met the criteria for migraine. Further, the presence of clinical depression more than doubled the risk of migraine among study subjects.

Further evidence linking depression and migraines was later published in the November issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. In this study, researchers studied a sample of more than 130,000 Canadians taken from Statistics Canada's cross-sectional Canadian Community Health Survey. In the survey, participants were screened for a variety of health conditions including depression and migraine.

Seven per cent of the general population in this survey was found to have experienced depression within the past year and 18 per cent of those who had migraines also experienced depression during that one year period.

After controlling for various factors including age, gender and other medical conditions, subjects with migraines were found to have three times the prevalence of depression than those without migraines.

Both of these studies show a strong and clear association between these two conditions. What is not as clear is the nature of this association. It is not certain whether migraines make a person more susceptible to depression or vice versa, or if the two illnesses share some of the same biological causes.

Serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline are thought to be involved in both depression and migraines and some studies have suggested that anti-depressant medication may also work to combat migraine while the serotonin agonists commonly used for migraine could have some effect on depression.

More studies into this link are needed to better understand its nature and the individual nature of both disorders. In the meantime, it is important for psychiatrists and other health care providers to be aware of this link so that they can screen for depression among individuals presenting with migraines and can take both conditions into account when developing treatment strategies.

At Okanagan Clinical Trials we currently have studies examining investigational medications for treatment of depression. If you or someone you know suffers from depression, contact us at 862-8141 for a free, no obligation medical assessment and to learn if you may be eligible to participate.


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