Migraine and psychiatric comorbidity: from theory and hypotheses to clinical application

Headache. 2002 Oct;42(9):934-44. doi: 10.1046/j.1526-4610.2002.02217.x.


Objective: To review psychiatric issues that accompany migraine and means of addressing these issues.

Background: Psychiatric factors and migraine may interact in three general ways, etiologically, psychophysiologically or biobehaviorally, and comorbidly (the two disorders coexist), which is the present focus. There are several possible mechanisms of comorbidity. The relation between two disorders may be a result of chance. One disorder can cause another disorder: Diabetes can cause diabetic neuropathy. There might be shared environmental risks: Head trauma can cause both posttraumatic epilepsy and posttraumatic headache. And there may be environmental or genetic risk factors that produce a brain state giving rise to both conditions, that is, there may be some common biology underlying both conditions. This last mechanism seems to be the most likely one underlying comorbidity of migraine and psychiatric disorders. We introduce a possible role for classical paradigms of learned helplessness in regard to psychiatric comorbid depressive and anxiety disorders and migraine.

Results: There appears to be an association between migraine and affective disorders, particularly depression and anxiety. There are a number of formal tools for recognizing depression, but clinical evaluation should not be overlooked. Once diagnosed, depression and anxiety should be treated, both to improve the success of migraine treatment and to improve the patient's quality of life. Patients with recurring headaches are much more likely to overuse and misuse, rather than abuse, pain medications. It is important to be alert for signs that the patient may be misusing medication. Behavioral approaches can surround and support pharmacological therapy.

Conclusions: Migraine is often comorbid with psychiatric disorders, particularly depression and anxiety. The relationship is likely based on shared mechanisms and successful treatment is possible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / complications
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Behavioral Medicine
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Migraine Disorders / complications*
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy
  • Migraine Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications