Migraine in women may increase depression risk, lower breast cancer risk

migraine in women increase depression risk lower breast cancer riskMigraine in women may increase the risk of depression but, on the other hand, lower breast cancer risk. Women with migraines have a higher risk of developing depression, compared to women who have never experienced migraines.

The study classified 36,154 women without depression who provided information regarding their migraine history. The women were then classified into either active migraines with aura, active migraines without aura, prior history of migraines (but not experienced within the past year), or no history of migraines. Information on depression diagnosis was also provided.


A total of 6,456 women had a history of current or past migraines. During an average 14-year follow-up, 3,971 developed depression.

Women with any history of migraines were 40 percent more likely to develop depression, compared to women without a history of migraines. Results were the same regardless of the presence of auras.

Researcher Dr. Tobias Kurth said, “This is one of the first large studies to examine the association between migraine and the development of depression over time. We hope our findings will encourage doctors to speak to their migraine patients about the risk of depression and potential ways to prevent depression.”

Migraine history can be linked with lower breast cancer risk

Previous research has found a link between a history of migraines and a reduced risk of breast cancer. To better understand the relationship between migraines and breast cancer risk, researchers examined specific characteristics of migraine history on molecular subtypes of breast cancer.

Coauthor Dr. Sarah Lowry said, “This study builds upon previous findings by Dr. Chris Li and others that women who experience migraines are slightly less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.” Participants were asked about specific characteristics regarding their migraines in order to develop a history. This method, unlike previous studies, didn’t solely rely on self-reported accounts, and thus the researchers were able to better classify the migraines based on their clinical definitions.

The researchers then used data from the Seattle-Puget Sound Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) cancer registry to analyze factors in relation to estrogen-receptor status and type of breast cancer. Dr. Lawry added, “We observed that this relationship was limited to ER+ breast cancer, and to certain migraine histories. Specifically, women with longer-term (30+ years) and early onset (before age 20) of migraine history, as well as those who experienced migraines with aura, had a lower risk of ER+ breast cancer.” Depending on migraine history, these women had 30 to 60 percent lower risk of certain breast cancers. Dr. Lawry added that, “these findings provide additional clues for understanding this association, while at the same time raising additional questions.”

Short-term increases or decreases in estrogen are believed to trigger migraines and a higher accumulation of estrogen over one’s lifetime has been linked with a higher breast cancer risk.

Dr. Lawry concluded, “This association is explained by behavioral differences in women who experience migraines, such as avoiding alcohol consumption, which is a possible migraine trigger as well as a risk factor for ER+ breast cancer – though our data did not support that particular explanation.”

Although migraines can be painful and debilitating, the silver lining here is that their pain is tied with a reduction of breast cancer risk.

Related Reading:

Migraine with aura causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment

Migraines with aura are a disabling primary headache disorder and are ranked by the World Health Organization as number 19 of diseases that cause disability. Some researchers believe that migraine with aura is actually a bunch of diseases put into one, but generally migraines are considered one disease and divided into two subtypes: migraine without aura and migraine with aura. Continue reading…


Migraine with aura increases the risk of heart attack, blood clots in women

Two 2013 studies found that women who experience migraines with aura – headaches accompanied by visual disturbances – have a greater risk of heart attack and blood clots. The first study revealed that migraine with aura largely contributes to cardiovascular events and stroke, and the second study looked at women’s use of hormonal contraceptives and the risk of blood clots. Continue reading…


Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.