Surprising link between depression and migraines

By Ann Griswold • Published: March 8th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Frequent migraines can be depressing, but maybe not for reasons you might expect. Scientists say it’s not the pain, nausea and visual disturbances that make migraine sufferers more likely to be depressed… it’s their genes.

A recent study by scientists in the Netherlands found a genetic link between migraines and depression. Researchers examined more than twenty-five-hundred descendants of couples who had lived in a particular Dutch town in the late eighteen-hundreds. Because all of the study participants were related, researchers could look at the genetic components of disease.

They found that a quarter of the subjects who suffered from migraines also suffered from depression, whereas only an eighth of the subjects without migraines were depressed. The findings were even stronger for migraines with aura, or visual disturbances. The findings suggested that specific genes may contribute to both conditions, but that genes aren’t everything. The scientists estimated that half of the tendency for chronic migraines could be explained by genetics, but that other factors must also play a role.

A previous study of one-thousand people in the United States found that people who get migraines are about five times more likely than others to experience depression. The reverse may also be true, as people with depression were more likely to have migraines. That study proposed that biological factors such as hormone levels may also contribute to the link between depression and migraines.

Scientists say the findings are helpful for doctors who treat patients with either one of the disorders. Got migraines? Consult your doctor about the best ways to stay happy and healthy.