Adults who report having more frequent migraines also seem to be much more predisposed to generalized anxiety disorders relative to their peers (6% compared to 2%), a new study from the University of Toronto reports.

Migraine man.

Image credits Gerd Altmann

The study was performed using data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health (CCHS-MS) and drew on a huge sample of people with and without migraines (2232 and 19,270 people respectively). After adjusting for several factors that may play a part in the emergence of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the team found that rate of this disorder was “two and a half times higher among those with migraines than those without,” suggesting a powerful link between the two.

So what’s tying the two together? Well, it seems to come down to the “unpredictable and uncontrollable nature” of migraines, the team reports. These seemingly random bursts of pain can cause a lot of anxiety because they often interfere with “family and work impressionability with little or no warning.” First author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging explains that “this link […] in the past year was partially explained by the disturbingly high prevalence of debilitating chronic pain (30%) and problems in managing household responsibilities (28%) among those with migraine.”

However, this effect can be mitigated to some extent, and the trick is to admit that you may be in over your (aching) head due to the pain. Respondents who didn’t have a person to confide in were roughly five times as likely as those who did to develop a GAD.

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Rather surprisingly, the study also found that men who suffer from migraines had almost double the odds of developing a GAD compared to women who reported migraines, the paper adds. Men as a whole are less likely than women to develop GADs in the general population, so this figure was quite puzzling at first.

“This was a surprising finding […],” said co-author Senyo Agbeyaka, a recently graduated MSW student.

“Our results may be due to the fact that men are less likely than women to take medication to treat their migraine and therefore the disorder may be more painful and less controllable, which could result in anxiety.”

The findings show how important it is for doctors to monitor the mental health state — keeping an extra eye out for anxiety disorders — of patients who often suffer from migraines. Men, in particular, are at high risk of developing such conditions, as are those who experience chronic or debilitating pain, people who are struggling to cope with their daily responsibilities and those who are socially isolated.

If you experience a lot of migraines and need some help coping with them, marijuana might help. But there is some evidence that use of cannabis might promote development of anxiety disorders, not to mention that it’s still illegal in many places. Everything considered, a person to confide in and taking some time to rest through a migraine might be the best way to deal with them.

The paper “Characteristics of Headache After an Intracranial Endovascular Procedure: A Prospective Observational Study” has been published in the journal Headache.

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