Migraine is one of the most disabling and severe neurological brain conditions. There are a few characteristics that are required in order for migraines to be diagnosed properly.
According to the International Headache Society, an individual will have likely experienced a moderate to severe throbbing headache on one side of the head lasting between four hours and three days, at least five times before a migraine diagnosis can be made. The throbbing quality of the migraine may be the reason why an individual might refrain from any sort of physical activity.
During a migraine attack it is not uncommon for individuals to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, but these symptoms alone don’t mean a diagnosis of depression or anxiety is necessary. In these cases, differentiating how often these symptoms occur is going to be the key to discovering the best treatment approach. It is advisable to be as forthcoming and honest about your symptoms as possible to aid in the treatment process.
MIGRAINE AND NEURODIVERGENT COMORBIDITIES
Comorbidity is the presence of two or more chronic conditions in one person. One such common comorbidity is that of migraine and various neurodivergent conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar. Many studies have shown that this type of comorbidity appears more frequently than could be expected by chance.
MIGRAINES AND BIPOLAR:
Migraines are two to three times more prevalent in people with bipolar than they are in the general population. It is suggested that both bipolar and migraines originate from common genes. Bipolar II is a particularly common occurrence in people who experience migraine.
MIGRAINES AND ANXIETY:
Migraines are two to ten times more common in people with anxiety than the general population. They are particularly common in those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
MIGRAINES AND AUTISM:
Autism has also been linked to an increased prevalence of migraines; particularly, migraine with aura. The authors of this study found that neuroinflammation, sensory issues like flickering fluorescent lights, food allergies, serotonin dysfunction, overfiring neurons, and issues with nitric oxide all linked migraines to autism.
MIGRAINES AND DEPRESSION:
Migraine has been noted to occur frequently in those with depression, particularly females with severe depression. Migraine with aura is the most common type of migraine associated with depression.
MIGRAINES AND ADHD:
Migraine with aura is also commonly found in those with ADHD, attributed to both genetic and environmental factors. This is most frequently found in the female population, particularly as they age and reach menopause. The authors of this study note that “being males protects against migraine”.
MIGRAINES AND OTHER NEURODIVERGENT CONDITIONS:
Migraineurs also commonly experience PTSD, OCD, panic disorder, and phobias.
“One possible explanation is a lack of specific chemicals in the brain such as serotonin or magnesium.”
So, why is migraine so often comorbid with these types of neurodivergence? One possible explanation is a lack of specific chemicals in the brain such as serotonin or magnesium. This can sometimes be remedied or controlled with proper medications.
MIGRAINE AND SENSORY PROCESSING ISSUES
Another potential answer comes in the form of sensory processing issues.
Since we’re still unclear on an exact cause of why migraines occur in the first place, figuring out why they so often occur in neurodivergent individuals is difficult. One trait that most of these forms of neurodivergence have in common is difficulties with processing sensory stimuli. These difficulties can manifest as a sensitivity to light, sound, pain, or any other number of ways and may account for why, when a headache response is triggered by a bright light or loud noise, we feel that pain more intensely and for longer periods of time.
To be clear, not all individuals with migraines also have a comorbid condition and not all individuals with some form of neurodivergence will experience migraines. It just so happens that they frequently occur together and I, for one, am interested in seeing how researchers can go about studying this phenomenon in the future.
Samantha lives with depression, migraines, anxiety and ADHD. She runs The Study Sessions: private online tutoring and test prep for neurodivergent teens and adults looking to love learning (again).
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