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Depression, suicidal thoughts more common in people with migraine, study finds

Oct. 18, 2013

Results of a new Canadian study show that depression is about twice as common among people with migraine, compared to the rest of the population. Those with migraine are also about 70 per cent more likely to have thoughts of suicide.

The University of Toronto (U of T) study also identified factors associated with depression and suicidal thoughts in migraineurs (people with migraine). The results showed that young, unmarried people with migraine who had low incomes and higher levels of disability were more likely to also have depression. In fact, migraineurs under 30 were six times as likely to be depressed and four times as likely to have considered suicide, compared to migraineurs over age 65.

The study authors note that the high rates of depression in young people with migraine may reflect more recent diagnosis, since migraine often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. The link between depression and unmarried migraineurs with high levels of disability may reflect a lack of social support and lack of effective treatment for their migraine headaches.

Migraine is a moderate to severe headache that is typically associated with intolerance to light and sound, or with nausea or gastrointestinal upset. Some patients experience throbbing, one-sided headaches, vomiting, or an aura (a visual disturbance that may accompany a headache). It is a common condition, affecting more than four million Canadians. It is about three times more common in women compared to men.

Migraine headaches are often disabling, making it difficult to carry out routine activities such as work, school, social activities or family responsibilities.

U of T researchers used data from the Canadian Community Health Survey to look at links between migraine, depression and suicidal thoughts. Because the CCHS collected different information in different provinces, the researchers looked at two different groups: one to analyze information on depression and migraine, and another group to analyze suicidal thoughts and migraine.

In a group of more than 66,000 Canadians from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Saskatchewan who provided information on both migraine and depression, 3.7 per cent of men and 6.6 per cent of women reported depression. The prevalence of migraine was 6.1 per cent among men and 14.1 per cent among women.

After analyzing these data and adjusting for factors such as age, education and income, the researchers found that depression rates were approximately doubled in people with migraine: men with migraine were 2.02 times as likely to be depressed as men without migraine, and women with migraine were 1.89 times as likely to be depressed as those without. Being young, unmarried, poor and having higher levels of disability increased the risk of depression among migraineurs.

In a second group of more than 81,000 people from Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta who provided information about both migraine and suicidal thoughts, 6.5 per cent of men and 15.3 per cent of women had migraine. The researchers found that these people were significantly more likely to have ever seriously considered suicide. Among men with migraine, 15.6 per cent had considered suicide, compared to 7.9 per cent of men without migraine. In women with migraine, 17.6 per cent had had suicidal thoughts, compared to 9.1 per cent of women who did not have migraine.

The researchers calculated that the odds of having suicidal thoughts were 70 per cent higher in men with migraine and 72 per cent higher in women with migraine, compared to men and women without migraine.

Among women with migraine, those who had suicidal thoughts were more likely to be young, unmarried, poorer and have their activities limited by a health condition, compared to women with migraine who had not considered suicide. Male migraineurs who had suicidal thoughts were more likely to be young, unmarried, white and have limited activities.

The study was published in the journal Depression Research and Treatment in October 2013.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital