Study Helps Clarify Migraines’ Link to Mood Disorders

By Trevor Willingham
Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Taiwanese study focusing on migraine frequency expands on earlier research linking depression and anxiety to headaches.

Headaches are among the most common disorders of the nervous system, according to the World Health Organization. The migraine alone is the third most prevalent illness across the globe, affecting people of all ages, races and socioeconomic levels.

While migraines are best known for the throbbing pain that accompanies them, they are also associated with an increased risk of developing mood disorders.

Previous Findings

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common comorbidities associated with migraines, according to the American Migraine Foundation. A handful of studies, including a 2014 study published in the journal Headache, have substantiated this correlation.

The authors of the 2014 study conclude: “The increase in migraine frequency was associated with progressively higher frequencies of having mood/anxiety disorders in all samples.”

Seeking to further define the link between migraines and mood disorders, a team of researchers from the National Defense Medical Center, in Taipei, Taiwan, conducted an additional study — published in Headache in 2017.

Digging Deeper

The goal of the 2017 study was to evaluate the relationship between the severity of depression/anxiety and migraine frequency.

The study involved 588 patients in an outpatient headache clinic who were evaluated in relation to their migraine frequency, demographic data and sleep habits. Researchers controlled for potential confounding factors, such as sleep quality, employment, education and lifestyle habits.

Participants completed questionnaires including the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), and others designed to assess their potential for having a mood disorder.

The findings reinforced those of previous studies: Participants who had a higher frequency of migraine attacks scored higher on the BDI, PSQI and HADS — meaning they were more depressed and anxious.

The results suggest that effectively addressing migraines may play a valuable role in heading off psychological disorders among some patients, according to Fu-Chi Yang, MD, PhD, corresponding author of the study and an investigator in the Department of Neurology, Tri-Service General Hospital, National Defense Medical Center.

“Greater headache frequency in migraineurs is associated with increased severity of anxiety and depression,” Dr. Yang says. “Preventive migraine pharmacological treatments may reduce the risk of depression and anxiety problems in migraineurs.”

Access to mental health services can also prove valuable to patients coping with frequent migraines, he adds.