Migraine, Depression Linked in Women: What Are the Odds, Risks?

 @JasonLeMiere
on February 23 2012 11:12 AM
Women who suffer from migraines have an increased risk of developing depression, a new study suggests
Women who suffer from migraines have an increased risk of developing depression, a new study suggests Reuters

Women who suffer from migraines are around 40 percent more likely to develop depression than those women who are migraine free, according to a new study.

Even women who may not currently be suffering from migraines but have done in the past face a similarly increased risk of depression.

The study, led by Dr. Tobias Kurth, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston sampled 36,154 women, 6,456 of whom were current migraine sufferers or had been in the past.

Over a follow-up period averaging 14 years, the research found that women who were currently experiencing or who had ever suffered from migraines were 36 percent more likely to develop depression than those with no history of migraines. Women who had struggled with migraines in the past, but not in the past year were 41 percent more likely.

We hope our findings will encourage doctors to speak to their migraine patients about the risk of depression and potential ways to prevent depression, said Kurth in a statement, according to CNN.

While this study was part of the Women's Health study, Kurth suggested the findings could be similar for men.

There's no good biological reason why the link would not apply to men, he said.

However, of the 29.5 million Americans who are affected by migraines, three-quarters are women, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Office on Women's Health.

One possible limitation of the research is that it only analyzed data for women over the age of 45.

Most women develop migraine when they are well under 40, says neurologist Jason Rosenberg, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center, in Baltimore, according to CNN. An older population could skew the results one way or the other.

In terms of specific types of migraine, this latest research also took note of those women who suffered from the particular condition known as migraine with aura, where they are preceded with visual disturbances like flashing lights. While those with that specific symptom were shown to have an increased risk of developing depression, it was not thought to be statistically significant.

According to the aforementioned department on women's health, the precise cause of migraines is not currently known. It is thought, however, that they are linked to abnormal alterations in the levels of substances naturally produced by the brain.

Depression is also strongly linked to changes in chemical levels in the brain and Kurth says he hopes that future research will focus on this correlation.

Are there common biomarkers in the neurotransmitters of the brain? he says. I hope our research will stimulate targeted research that will look for mechanisms and figure out exactly what is going on.

A 2010 study in the Netherlands of 977 extended family members found that 25 percent of those suffering from migraines had depression as opposed to 12 percent of their relatives who did not have migraines, according to Time.

There is no specific cure for treating migraines, with the emphasis on eliminating factors, such as lack of sleep, or stress, that are particular triggers for migraines in an individual.

The study's findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in New Orleans in April.

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