Many migraine sufferers find that their headaches are often associated with feelings of anxiety or depression, and wonder if the two conditions are related. Plenty of research has been done to investigate the likelihood of either anxiety or depression leading to migraine, with results indicating that there is actually a connection.
It can be helpful to look at the conditions separately before considering how they relate to each other and what can be done to alleviate your symptoms.
As with many disorders, patients who experience anxiety report differing levels and different symptoms. If you suffer from anxiety, it may be comforting to know you’re not alone. In fact, research indicates that up to 30% of all people will experience some kind of anxiety disorder during their life. For migraine sufferers, however, the incidence of anxiety is much higher, at around 50 - 60%.
Anxiety disorders fall into three main groups:
- Panic attacks
- General anxiety disorder (GAD)
For most sufferers, anxiety involves persistent worry and defensive behavioral changes that include avoiding known triggers such as certain objects or places. Feelings and symptoms are intensified when those known triggers are unavoidable.
Symptoms of panic attacks include:
- Sudden feelings of terror
- Rapid heart beat or palpitations
- Labored breathing, shortness of breath
- Excess sweating
- A fear of dying
- A sense of losing control
Symptoms of phobias include fears of particular objects or places, which are mostly irrational. Common phobias can include fear of spiders or birds, with some being harder to control than others. A fear of dogs, for instance can be severely limiting since dogs can be encountered at any time and in any place. Phobias can also include a fear of social interactions and can result in the person avoiding all social occasions or situations. This in turn can lead to isolation, which can also provoke feelings of anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorders result in constant worry, often about events the patient imagines may happen in the future but which have no grounding in reality.
The Relationship Between Anxiety and Migraine
Research has shown that some people develop anxiety after living with migraine for a while, while in others the anxiety developed before the onset of migraine headaches.
Anxiety can prompt the release of adrenaline, which is a known migraine trigger. Hormonal changes in the body can also effect or trigger migraines or anxiety disorders. Women are more affected by hormonal changes, but men experience this too. Both sexes are more sensitive to changes in both their physical and emotional states when suffering from anxiety, migraine, or even depression.
Can Anxiety Cause Migraine?
Research has shown a strong link between anxiety and migraine, although exactly how one leads to the other is not completely understood. It’s clear, however, that feelings of anxiety can trigger a migraine so it’s important that anxiety disorders are treated as well as physical migraine headaches.
One of the situations that can lead to anxiety includes lack of sleep, which can put you in a vicious cycle situation: You feel anxious so you can’t get to sleep, but knowing the difficulties you’ll face getting through the day when you’re feeling fatigued creates even more stress, further reducing your chances of getting to sleep. The resulting stress can be enough to trigger a migraine headache.
Can Migraine Cause Anxiety?
Debilitating pain along with other physical symptoms such as hypersensitivity to light or noise and feelings of nausea, are all sensations that many fear. It should come as no surprise, then, that the onset of migraine headaches can cause anxiety amongst sufferers. The relationship between migraine and anxiety can be cyclical in nature, with one leading to, or causing, the other.
Treating Both Conditions
It’s important that both anxiety and migraine are treated as separate conditions. Getting help for one can relieve the symptoms of the other and break the chain reaction that many sufferers experience.
Certain drugs or behavioral therapies can help patients cope with anxiety:
If depression accompanies feelings of anxiety, antidepressants can alter the ways in which chemical messages are passed through the brain and help alleviate the symptoms.
Behavioral therapies can help the patient alter the ways in which they approach feared situations or objects. Learning coping mechanisms and practicing in safe, controlled situations can be more effective than drug treatments for some anxiety disorders. In generalized anxiety disorders, behavior therapies are most effective in the long term.
If anxiety is part of your migraine pattern, don’t ignore the relationship between them. Getting help to cope with anxiety could result in fewer migraine attacks, which in turn may reduce the feelings of anxiety you experience.