Migraines and depression: Brain pain and emotional pain somehow linked

How migraines and depression are linked is still a mystery, but a history of migraines makes women susceptible to depression. Photo: Tambako the Jaguar

WASHINGTON July 20, 2012 — It seems that everything can be correlated to an increased risk of depression, but sometimes the increased risk is significant enough to warrant an alert. If you are a female and currently experience migraine headaches, or have a history of migraines, you are 40% more likely to develop symptoms of depression. 

That statistic is enough to give someone a headache.

The finding is preliminary though, and requires more study. (Have you ever read research results that stated no more research is required?) 

It is not clear if the migraine-depression link is causal (migraines trigger depression), circumstantial (it is depressing to live with migraines), or inherent (both illnesses come from the same genetic predisposition). Researchers are also looking into biological connections such as neurotransmitters that trigger both diagnoses.

Does this link work in reverse? There is pre-preliminary evidence that women who experience depression might have a higher chance of getting migraines later in life. This less than unsubstantiated link is not considered causal. 

Treatment “Link” 

How interesting that different forms of deep brain stimulation are promising treatments for depression and migraines. Maybe those old Frankenstein movies with the giant electrodes were on to something.

A team of researchers at CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering, have developed tDCS, or Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. They report their technology can undo undesirable brain changes caused by chronic migraines.

Repeated use of the tDCS purse-portable electrical stimulator significantly reduced the intensity of study subject’s migraines by 37%. The researchers also believe this device might be used daily or weekly to prevent migraines. 

Some people using tDCS in a pilot study experienced a “mild tingling sensation” during the treatment, but there were no other reported side effects. Similar treatments, also with few side effects, are available (or nearly so) for depressive symptoms. 

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a treatment being studied for relief of depression. Since users need an electrode planted in their gray matter, it is a little less convenient than tDCS and, you will never guess, it needs more study.

Depression is also being treated by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. TMS sends magnetic pulses to targeted areas of the brain and is helping some people with medication resistant depression.  

Maybe someday all of us will give ourselves a daily deep brain zap to align our neurons and pep up our neurotransmitters.   

Bits of Mystery 

The mechanics of depression are being revealed in bits and pieces from multitudinous research labs. The chemical and physical happenings in the body and brain, leading to migraines, are also an incomplete puzzle. Somewhere in that mix of bits and puzzle pieces is a connection.

Just how related migraines and depression are remains to be seen. They may be siblings, or second cousins thrice removed, or simply difficult neighbors. You can almost hear the two diagnoses arguing about which one causes the worst pain, but one day all those research studies may put both out of business.


If you or someone you know suffers from migraines, you will find a wealth of information about symptoms, treatments, and prevention at Healthline.com.


Medical News Today. Technology Eases Migraine Pain In The Deep Brain. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/244822.php


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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


Contact Jacqueline Marshall


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