While the pain and discomfort experienced as a result of migraines it’s widely-known, what’s less discussed (and important to talk about) is the emotional toll chronic headaches can have on sufferers. Here, we’ll discuss the psychological implications of frequent migraines, including depression and anxiety, and the impact that receiving mental health support can have on those who experience them.
The Connection Between Migraine & Mental Health
In a survey by The American Migraine Foundation with the support of Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, more than 60% of those with migraines were linked to being diagnosed with a co-occuring mental health condition. That’s a pretty significant statistic. Not only that, but 87% of patients believed that their mental health would drastically improve if migraine symptoms were reduced.
Dr. Baskin, co-director of Behavioral Medicine at The New England Institute of Neurology and Headache in Stamford, Connecticut, described the link between migraines and mental health as “a vicious cycle,” one feeding the other. What was Dr. Baskin’s call to action? To reduce the stigma surrounding the two “invisible diseases” as they both greatly affect not only one another, but more importantly, the person suffering.
Although activism for mental health has significantly risen within the past 10 years, the dismissal and discrimination of mental health symptoms still remain, resulting in many migraineurs feeling uncomfortable disclosing their symptoms with their physicians. As you can imagine, this often causes a ripple effect, leaving many undiagnosed and still suffering.
Migraine & Mental Health Challenges: Chicken or the Egg?
In most cases, it’s unclear which illness comes first: migraines or mental health challenges? Researchers agree that the link between the two diseases is bidirectional, meaning both feed into the development of each other over time. In many studies, the treatment of episodic and chronic migraines did little to improve the patient's anxiety or depression. However, an overall mood improvement was noticeable.
As in most health issues, environmental triggers and genetics can be the causes of both illnesses. For instance, the ability to identify the genetic mutations that cause serotonin disruption has proved successful in identifying patients with mental health disorders. Identifying this gene can help structure a treatment process that’s right for each patient on a case-by-case basis. If this gene is present, then it might be determined that including SSRIs in the treatment plan could be helpful. But if not, another route to control migraine symptoms may prove more beneficial.
It’s not surprising that the main two mental illnesses that are reported with migraines are depression and anxiety disorders. According to the American Migraine Foundation, patients who suffer from migraines are five times more likely to develop depression than patients who don’t have migraines.
Migraine & Mental Health in Women
A large percentage of the patients reporting these anxiety and depression are also women. This is not shocking as we know that the majority of those who suffer from migraines are women.
The main factor here is womens’ hormones, which play a large role in migraine occurrences. An example of this can be seen in “menstrual migraine,” or migraines experienced during the menstruation period when estrogen levels are lower. Researchers believe that in addition to an increased likelihood of migraines, low estrogen could also contribute to anxiety and depression.
Ways of Reducing Migraine Symptoms
There are different tools and methods that can be used to reduce migraine symptoms, and possibly to subsequently help reduce mental health symptoms. Let’s explore some options:
Using Migraine IQ for Migraine Symptom Reduction
Migraine IQ is Cardiogram’s migraine-tracking app. It allows users to manage their migraines by logging their headaches and tracking specific areas of pain, pain severity levels, headache symptoms and medication used for prevention or treatment. You can use Migraine IQ to reduce symptoms through features such as the daily Risk Index and through regular logging.
With regular logging, our algorithm begins to better understand you and your migraines, detecting patterns in habits and triggers that cause headaches. By identifying habits to avoid, you gain greater control over your migraines and, ultimately, your life.
DAILY RISK INDEX
Every day, Migraine IQ provides users with a migraine risk forecast through our Risk Index feature, reporting the likelihood you have of experiencing a migraine that day. With this feature, you can take proactive measures on high risk days to reduce your chances of the migraine fully developing by making adjustments in your plans or diet or by taking medication when necessary.
Enroll in a habit
Because engaging in regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and managing stress levels all help improve the symptoms of both migraine and mental health challenges. For assistance with making lifestyle changes that could improve your symptoms, enroll in any of the healthy habits in your Migraine IQ app– we’ll become your best accountability buddy.
Share data with your doctor
With Migraine IQs Share with Doctor feature, you can easily share your detailed migraine information and data in a succinct way that allows your doctor to grasp a more in-depth picture of your migraine episode. Giving your doctor access to this information gives you both the opportunity to create a more tailored and effective treatment plan for reducing migraine symptoms.
Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Making healthy lifestyle changes is one non-invasive way to help mitigate both migraines and mental health conditions without the risk of worsening side effects. Lifestyle changes could include:
- Regular exercise
- Stress management
- Healthy diet
- Getting proper sleep
Again, you can use your habit section within Migraine IQ for help with staying on track with these healthy habits.
Deep Breathing & Yoga
Deep breathing techniques paired with practices like yoga can relax the body and ultimately the mind, reducing the frequency of headaches by as much as 60%, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
Of course, if you’re struggling with mental health and need additional assistance, talking to your doctor about whether or not medications could be helpful is yet another option.
Antidepressants are a class of drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are a type of antidepressant that works by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Triptans are a class of drugs sometimes used to treat migraines by constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation.
Treatment options for all patients who suffer from the mental illness and migraine duo, regardless of gender, are still being researched, just like the link between the disorders themselves. Because of this, consulting with a healthcare team, including a primary care doctor and psychiatrist, is key to finding the best treatment plan for each patient’s specific needs. Ultimately, it’s important to find the treatment plan that works best for you.
The Core of the Matter
The relationship between migraines and mental illness is still being researched. The pair can come in combination with those who are genetically, hormonally, and environmentally disposed to factors that contribute to the development of the diseases. The medical community is also still unsure about the link between the two, although there are a multitude of treatment plans proven to help mitigate symptoms.
Using tools like Migraine IQ, education, and a combination of lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise are key to maintaining health for most migraine and mental health sufferers. And of course, speaking with your doctor about the right course of action for you is key to alleviating issues related to both conditions.