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Women Migraine Sufferers at Greater Risk for Depression

Women's Health, Migraine Headaches, Depression

Migraine headaches tend to occur more often in women and although certain triggers can set off the chain of events leading to the abnormal brain activity, some biological factors about the exact causes of migraines remain unknown. However, a new found link between depression and migraine headaches in middle-aged women may provide some clues, which could potentially lead to new treatments.

A migraine is a specific, common type of headache that may occur with symptoms such as aura (vision disturbances), nausea/vomiting, and sensitivity to light. They tend to first appear in early adulthood, but can occur later. Known triggers include alcohol, specific foods or food preservatives (ie MSG), certain odors (including cigarette smoke) or perfumes, changes in hormone levels, changes in sleep patterns, or physical or emotional stress.

Dr. Tobias Kurth MD, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, studied data collected from the Women’s Health Study, an ongoing survey of female health professionals that began in 1993 and extracted information from more than 36,000 women who, at the beginning of the study, had no history of depression. About 18% of those women were experiencing some form of migraine or had suffered in the past.

After factoring in age, smoking and drinking factors, and other extenuating circumstances, women who had experienced migraine headaches were almost 40% more likely to become depressed than those who were migraine-free. The risk of depression remained elevated even when the pain stopped.

The type of migraine did not influence depression risk. Those women who had migraines that included auras - which occurs in about 25% of migraine cases - had the same risk of depression than those who did not have the warning sign.

As of now, the study didn’t provide any clear clues as to why migraines and depression are linked. Dr. Kurth suspects that it could be a reduction in quality of life that brings on depressive symptoms because previous studies have found that depression risk rises along with migraine severity. Or possibly, there is a brain chemical that contributes to both conditions. And although this particular study was limited to women, “there’s no good biological reason why the link would not apply to men,” Dr. Kurth said.

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Dr. Kurth is scheduled to present his findings at the 64th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in New Orleans in April 2012.

For those who do experience migraine headaches, the primary goal is to prevent them from occurring as there is no specific cure. Patients are encouraged to keep a diary to identify specific triggers. Journal entries should include details about the headache (when it occurred, how severe it was, other accompanying symptoms) and also information about foods eaten, hours slept, and any other possible factors including, for women, where they are in their menstrual cycle.

When migraines do occur, treat them right away with medications that your physician has recommended for your individual needs. Also, rest in a quiet, darkened room, place a cool cloth on your head, and drink water to avoid dehydration.

Migraine-sufferers who are prone to depression may be able to take an antidepressant, such as amitriptyline (brand name Elavil). It is sometimes prescribed to prevent migraine headaches.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital Press Release
PubMed Health (US National Library of Medicine)

Photo Credit: Morguefile.com

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