Why So Many Chronic Migraine Patients Suffer From Depression


A recent study conducted by the University of Toronto is shedding new light on the prevalence of depression in chronic migraine syndrome patients. According to the research, depression is twice as likely in patients who also experience chronic migraine pain, a relationship that does not exist with other forms of chronic pain. The question everyone is asking is – why migraines?

Chronic Migraine Syndrome

Chronic migraine syndrome is characterized by 15 or more days per month accompanied by the following symptoms lasting four hours or more per day:

  • Moderate to severe throbbing head pain
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Visual disturbances (auras)
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Lethargy

For some sufferers, migraine episodes can be attributed to an exact trigger like caffeine consumption, lack of sleep or hormone changes. For many others, the cause is unknown and pain management often involves trial and error to find the right combination of diet, lifestyle and medicine to curb episode frequency and severity. Put simply, living with chronic migraine syndrome can be devastating to one’s quality of life.


Depression is a clinically diagnosed state of mind that negatively impacts how one thinks, feels and behaves on most days or every single day. It is characterized by:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Lack of interest in life
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unhealthy sleep pattern
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling of worthlessness or helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Self-medicating (drug or alcohol use)
  • Thoughts of suicide

Depression can be attributed to biological or experience related factors like a chemical imbalance in the brain or a traumatic life event. Treatment for depression generally involves medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. 

Read this article and learn more about: Chronic Migraines and Depression

Research Results

The University of Toronto study, which involved more thank 67,000 Canadians and appeared in the journal, Depression Research and Treatment, unveiled some shocking statistics about the relationship between chronic migraine syndrome and depression:

  • Depression was found in 8.4% of men with migraines versus 3.4% of men without migraines.
  • Depression was found in 12.4% of women with migraines versus 5.7% of women without migraines.
  • Female migraine sufferers age 30 or younger were six times more likely to develop depression as opposed to women 65 and older.
  • Thoughts of suicide in male and female migraine sufferers were nearly double.
  • Migraine sufferers under the age of 30 were four times more likely to have thoughts of suicide.

To recap, depression is twice as prevalent in chronic migraine sufferers, especially women under the age of 30.

What’s the Connection?

An exact link between migraines and depression has yet to be defined but there are a couple theories:

Serotonin Levels

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or substance released by nerve cells to promote communication between other nearby cells. It helps to regulate pain, sleep, mood and appetite. During a migraine attack, research shows a significant drop in serotonin levels. Low baseline serotonin in the body is also believed to cause depression, which may explain why some patients report worsening migraine pain in association with depression and visa versa.

Stress & Anxiety

Individuals living with the threat of constant pain often cannot properly plan for life. Each day could mean a migraine attack that takes the sufferer away from work or personal commitments. The uncertainty causes stress and anxiety, both of which are common triggers for a migraine attack. When the body feels stressed or anxious, the central nervous system becomes overactive and inconsistent levels of essential hormones like cortisol and dopamine are produced, both of which are linked to depression.


Anti-depressant medications are frequently used as a first line of defense against chronic migraines because they restore neurotransmitter activity to healthy levels. Additionally, they combat feelings of depression, which your migraine doctor should screen for upon diagnosing you with chronic migraine syndrome. Beta-blockers, which are normally used to treat high blood pressure may also be prescribed in conjunction with anti-depressants to reduce blood vessel inflammation and enhance blood flow.

If you believe you may be suffering from chronic migraine syndrome and clinical depression, keep a mood and migraine diary to track your physical and emotional symptoms and schedule an appointment with you physician. They will have the expertise to properly diagnose and responsibly prescribe medications to reduce symptoms in both capacities.

Join the conversation

Imageb Source: Alden Chadwick

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.