Although migraine headaches are the most common type of chronic headache syndrome, the exact cause and biological mechanisms behind them remain mostly unknown. Previous research has discussed the possibility of emotional disturbances as a potential cause, though the association remains shaky. A new study looked into this hypothesis further, examining whether the intensity of the experienced emotions was related to the occurrence of a migraine headache.
The study focused on the presence of depression and anxiety in patients suffering from migraine headaches in order to determine what the possible relationship between them is. The literature on this topic has recognized the cycle of migraine headaches and anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders; migraines cause emotional disturbances and difficulties sleeping and yet these symptoms also seem to result in the occurrence of migraine headaches.
The study included 588 Taiwanese participants who suffered from migraines. The experimental group was further divided between patients whose migraines formed auras and patients whose migraines did not form auras (auras are a form of visual impairment that can present in different ways in some patients suffering from migraines), and within groups based on the frequency of the migraines.
Frequencies were broken down into the following categories: chronic migraines (15 headache days per month), high-frequency migraines (9-14 headache days per month), medium frequency migraines (5-8 headache days per month), and low-frequency migraines (1-4 headache days per month). The control group was made up of 179 participants who suffered from no migraines or other headache disorders.
The results did not show significant demographic differences between the experimental and the control groups. After adjusting for factors including gender, age, BMI, employment, education, smoking, alcohol consumption, and coffee consumption, the researchers found an association between depression and anxiety and the intensity of participants’ migraine headaches. The results did not differ between the participants whether they also had pre-headache auras or not and there were no gender-related differences.
Anxiety and Depression Most Prominent in Chronic Migraine Sufferers
The researchers found that the association between depression, anxiety, and migraine intensity was strongest in the patients with chronic frequency migraines. The results also showed that higher levels of sleep disturbance were related to increased migraine frequency. The researchers believe that sleep disturbance may itself be a predictor of emotional distress.
Despite these results, the researchers feel that it remains unknown if these recurring migraines are a true manifestation of emotional disturbances or if the causation goes the opposite way, with migraines causing the emotional disturbance. The mechanisms behind this relationship need to be explored further, in order to determine the common factor in the occurrence of both migraines and emotional distress. Hypotheses for this mechanism include the pain pathways, including pain intensity and pain perception, which have previously been linked to the pathways which demonstrate emotional responses. These symptoms have also been found consistently in children and young adults, often to the result of developing mood disorders after experiencing chronic headaches earlier on.