Migraine And Depression: Understanding Their Complex Link

For long, the relationship between migraines and depression has puzzled medical experts as well as people who suffer from them. While both conditions affect vastly different areas of the brain, there is a clear correlation between the two. Understanding this link between migraines and depression could help in better diagnosis and treatment of both conditions.

What is a Migraine?

A migraine is a neurological condition that causes recurring headaches that can be moderate to severe in intensity. It affects about 15% of the global population and is more common in women than men. The symptoms of a migraine include intense pain, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and aura (a visual disturbance or sensation experienced just before the headache).

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in daily activities. Depression affects about 5% of the global population, and women are twice as likely as men to experience it. Symptoms of depression include low mood, fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, and a lack of energy.

The Link Between Migraines and Depression

The link between migraines and depression is not fully understood, but there are several theories that suggest a relationship between the two:

  • Shared Neurotransmitters: Several neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine play a crucial role in both migraine and depression. Low levels of these chemicals have been linked to migraines and depression.
  • Genetics: Genetics also plays a role in both conditions, with studies suggesting that both migraines and depression are hereditary.
  • Stress: Stress is a triggering factor for both migraines and depression. People who experience migraines are more likely to experience depression, and people who are depressed are more likely to experience migraines.
  • Inflammatory Response: Inflammation is also linked to both migraines and depression. People who experience migraines have been found to have higher levels of inflammation markers than those who don’t, and the same is true for people who are depressed.

The Impact of Migraine and Depression on Quality of Life

Migraines and depression can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Both conditions can cause severe pain and discomfort, interfering with daily activities and social interactions. People who suffer from migraines may experience increased anxiety and depression due to the unpredictability of the attacks, while those with depression may experience physical symptoms like headaches and fatigue.

Individuals with both migraines and depression may find it more challenging to cope with their symptoms, and the risk of suicide is also higher in people with both conditions. In addition, managing the symptoms of both conditions can be quite challenging and may require medication, therapy, or a combination of both.

Treatment Options for Migraine and Depression

Since migraines and depression are closely linked, treating one condition may also have a positive impact on the other. Here are some treatment options for both:

  • Medications: Certain medications can help with both migraines and depression. For migraines, preventive medications such as beta-blockers or anticonvulsants may help minimize the frequency or severity of attacks. For depression, antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may be prescribed.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy or talk therapy can be an effective treatment option for both migraines and depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoanalytic therapy may help individuals learn to manage stress, identify triggers, and cope with their symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines and depression. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, good sleep habits, and stress management techniques such as mindfulness meditation can help.


Migraine and depression are two complex conditions that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Although the link between the two conditions is not straightforward, there is a clear correlation between them. Recognizing this correlation and understanding the causes can allow for better diagnosis and treatment of both conditions. A multidisciplinary approach that involves medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes can help individuals better manage their symptoms, leading to a better quality of life.


FAQs about Migraine and Depression

1. Is there a connection between migraines and depression?

Yes, studies have shown that people who suffer from chronic migraines are at a higher risk of developing depression. This may be due to the impact that migraines have on a person’s life, including missed work or social events, and constant pain and discomfort.

2. Can migraines cause depression?

While migraines themselves may not directly cause depression, the impact of living with chronic migraines can lead to depression. Additionally, some medications used to treat migraines, such as beta blockers or topiramate, have been linked to an increased risk of depression.

3. What can be done to address both migraines and depression?

It is important to seek proper medical care for both migraines and depression. This may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both. Engaging in self-care practices such as exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management can also help alleviate symptoms of both conditions. It is also important to communicate openly with healthcare providers and loved ones about the impact of these conditions on daily life.


1. Breslau, J., Gilman, S. E., Stein, B. D., Ruder, T., & Gmelin, T. (2018). Migraine and major depression: A longitudinal study. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 58(4), 496-506. doi: 10.1111/head.13263

2. Wang, S. J., Fuh, J. L., Lu, S. R., Liu, C. Y., & Hsu, L. C. (2016). Depression and anxiety disorders in chronic migraine patients. Psychiatric Quarterly, 87(4), 705-712. doi: 10.1007/s11126-016-9440-2

3. Yang, F. C., Chou, K. H., Fuh, J. L., Huang, C. C., Weng, Y. C., & Lin, C. P. (2017). Altered gray matter volume in the frontal pain modulation network in patients with chronic migraine. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 18(1), 7. doi: 10.1186/s10194-017-0707-1