The link between depression and migraines

Author: 
Dominic Ali

Depression is twice as likely in migraine sufferers, say researchers at the University of Toronto.

Both depression and suicidal ideation are much higher among individuals with migraine, their new study found, and the prevalence of depression among those with migraine is approximately twice as high as for those without the disease.

More than eight per cent of men with migraines suffer from depression, compared to just over three per cent for men without migraines, and more than 12 per cent of female migraine-sufferers experience depression, compared to less than six per cent of women who do not have migraines, researchers found.

In a paper published online this week in the journal Depression Research and Treatment, investigators also reported that younger migraine sufferers were particularly at risk for depression.

Individuals with migraines who were younger than 30 had six times the odds of depression in comparison to sufferers who were aged 65 and over, said lead author, Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at U of T's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

Unmarried individuals and migraine sufferers who had difficulties with daily activities also had high odds of depression.

Data drawn from a representative sample of more than 67,000 Canadians, the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, were used to examine gender-specific associations between migraine and depression. More than 6,000 respondents reported that they had been diagnosed by a health professional with migraines. Consistent with prior research, the prevalence of migraines was much higher in women than men, with one in every seven women, compared to one in every 16 men, reporting that they had migraines.

The study also investigated the relationship between migraine and suicidal ideation. For both men and women, those with migraines were much more likely to have “ever seriously considered suicide or taking (their) own life” than were those without migraines (men: 15.6% versus 7.9%; women: 17.6% versus 9.1%). Migraineurs under age 30 had four times the odds of lifetime suicidal ideation in comparison to migraineurs aged 65 and over. Other factors associated with suicidal ideation among those with migraines included unmarried status, lower household income and greater activity limitations. 

“We are not sure why younger migraineurs have such a high likelihood of depression and suicidal ideation," said co-author and former graduate student Meghan Schrumm."It may be that younger people with migraines have not yet managed to find adequate treatment or develop coping mechanisms to minimize pain and the impact of this chronic illness on the rest of their lives.

"The much lower prevalence of depression and suicidal ideation among older migraineurs suggests a promising area for future research.”

Fuller-Thomson said that this study "draws further attention to the need for routine screening and targeted interventions for depression and suicidality, particularly among the most vulnerable migraineurs: Individuals who are young, unmarried and those with activity limitations.”

Dominic Ali and Michael Kennedy are writers with University Relations at the University of Toronto.