Headache

Updated 04 July 2014

Migraines raise risk of suicidal thoughts

A study has found that migraine sufferers are more likely to be depressed and have suicidal thoughts and that younger adults are most vulnerable.

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People who suffer from migraines are twice as likely to be depressed as others without the debilitating headaches, according to a new study.

And those who experience migraines, particularly people younger than 30, are also more likely to consider suicide, the Canadian researchers said.

Routine screenings and interventions are needed for those migraine sufferers at greatest risk for both depression and suicidal thoughts, the study authors contend.

Lack of adequate treatment

"We are not sure why younger migraineurs have such a high likelihood of depression and suicidal ideation," study co-author Meghan Schrumm, a former graduate student at the University of Toronto, said.

"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," Schrumm suggested.

The study, published online recently in the journal Depression Research and Treatment, involved more than 6 000 Canadians who said they had been diagnosed with migraines. The researchers compared them to a much larger group who did not report having migraines.

As in previous studies, migraines were much more common among women, with one in every seven women reporting having migraines, compared with one in every 16 men.

Of study participants, more than 8% of men and 12% of women who experienced migraines also suffered from depression, compared to just above 3% of men and about 6% of women who did not have migraines.

Younger patients more prone to depression

Younger people with migraines were much more likely than older patients to develop symptoms of depression. Women younger than 30 who suffered from migraines had six times the odds of being depressed than adults aged 65 and older. Migraine sufferers who were single or had trouble with daily activities were also at increased risk for depression.

Men and women with migraines were also much more likely than those without the headaches to have seriously considered committing suicide. Although nearly 16% of men and 18% of women with migraines said they thought about taking their own life, about 8% of men and 9% of women who didn't have migraines said the same.

Although the study found associations between having migraines, depression and suicidal thoughts, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Based on the findings, study lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, chair of the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, concluded there is a need for routine screening and interventions for depression and suicidal thoughts among young and unmarried people who suffer from migraines as well as those who are limited in their daily activities.

More information

The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about migraines.

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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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