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Headache

25 May 2019

Migraine pain linked to raised suicide risk

In a Canadian study, people with migraines had 77% higher odds of having attempted suicide in comparison to those without migraines.

People with migraine may be much more likely to attempt suicide than others, a new study suggests.

It found that 1 in 12 adults with migraine had attempted suicide – and those with a history of sexual abuse or long-term exposure to domestic violence had a significantly higher risk.

Physical abuse and domestic violence

The findings come from data on nearly 22 000 Canadians who took part in a 2012 community mental health survey. Of those, more than 2 200 had been diagnosed with migraine.

The rate of lifetime suicide attempts was 8.7% among those with migraine and 2.3% for others.

"Even after taking into account most of the known risk factors for suicide attempts, those with migraines had 77% higher odds of having attempted suicide in comparison to those without migraines. Almost one-third (30%) of all Canadians who have attempted suicide are migraineurs," said study author Esme Fuller-Thomson. She's director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto.

Among those with migraines, adults with a history of sexual abuse during childhood were three times more likely to have attempted suicide. A history of physical abuse doubled suicide risk, and exposure to chronic parental domestic violence was associated with a 67% higher risk of attempted suicide. However, the study only found an association, and did not prove migraine causes suicide risk.

Extremely vulnerable population

"When we examined only the respondents with migraine, we found that a history of exposure to parental domestic violence, childhood sexual and physical abuse played a huge role, explaining 23% of the variability in suicide attempts," study co-author Gwyneth Hodgins said in a university news release. Hodgins is a recent graduate in social work.

She said most other known risk factors combined – including gender, race, age, education, household income, level of chronic pain, history of substance use, anxiety and depression – only explained 26% of the variability in suicide attempts.

"Clearly those with migraine are an extremely vulnerable population. Knowledge of the added risk of suicide attempts associated with migraineurs with a high level of chronic pain, lower income and a history of adverse childhood experiences, substance dependence, anxiety disorders and depression will hopefully help clinicians improve targeting and outreach to this population," Fuller-Thomson said.

The study was recently published online in the journal Archives of Suicide Research.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

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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