Anxiety And Migraine: Are They Related?
The Link Between Anxiety And Migraine
Do you find yourself easily anxious and constantly worrying? Anxiety and migraine are actually very closely linked.
According to a study by Kumar et. al, anxiety disorders are more prevalent among migraine patients than in the general population, especially those with chronic migraines. Migraine and anxiety disorders have a bidirectional relationship with one increasing the risk of the other. In a lifetime, more than 50% of the patients diagnosed with migraine meet the criteria for at least one anxiety disorder.
Similarities Between Anxiety And Migraine
A question you may be wondering then is, what is anxiety? Anxiety is characterized by a persistent feeling of worry or dread. While stress is generally a response to an external cause, anxiety is a person’s reaction to stress – it is internal.
There are several types of anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which involves excessive worry about often unthreatening everyday situations, and Panic Disorder (PD) which is characterized by episodes of intense fear that lead to panic attacks.
When we look at some of the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, it becomes clear that there are shared characteristics between migraine and anxiety:
– Excessive worry, fear, and irritability
– Muscle tension, fatigue, and sleep disturbance
– Difficulty concentrating
– Functional impairment (particularly relevant to hemiplegic migraine)
– Dizziness (also associated with vestibular migraine)
Can Anxiety Increase The Effects Of Migraine?
There is evidence to suggest that migraine and anxiety share similar pathways to the brain – this may mean that having one condition increases the likelihood of having the other.
According to Dr. Dawn Buse, associate professor in the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, migraine patients are 5 times more likely to develop depression than someone without migraine. Additionally, between 30% and 50% of chronic migraine patients also have anxiety. Hence, research shows that anxiety can make migraine attacks worse.
Anxiety And Migraine Triggers
Perhaps you are wondering how migraine can trigger anxiety, or vice versa.
As the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine attacks increase, so does anxiety. The American Migraine Foundation found that about 20% of people with episodic migraine have anxiety and this increases to between 30% and 50% for people with chronic migraine.
The release of hormones may be a factor in the link between anxiety and migraine. An increase in the stress hormone cortisol could lead to inflammation of blood vessels in the brain, which is commonly associated with migraine. Physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and adrenaline may be another migraine risk factor. In addition to hormonal changes, anxiety increases the chances of other risk factors associated with migraine such as loss of sleep and neck tension.
Since anxiety is a biological response to real potential threats, worrying about the next migraine attack and fearing pain during an attack are anxiety-inducing situations.
How To Cope With Anxiety And Migraine
Remember that experiencing migraine and anxiety is not your fault. Migraine is often an unpredictable, intensely painful, and life-impacting condition. Here are a few strategies that may help:
Have a routine: Planning what to do when an attack comes on will take the decision-making anxiety away especially when your head hurts too much to think. This might look like informing your manager, taking medication, grabbing a sick bucket and ice cap, then heading straight to a dark room to lie down.
Stay active and social: Keep making plans but let people know you may need to cancel or leave early. Your friends will understand and opening up means they have the chance to offer support and empathy. Try an activity like yoga which helps connect mind and body or dance which lifts the spirits.
Therapy: Experiencing intense, persistent pain can take you to a dark place. Professional help is important as therapists will know the tools and techniques that can improve your condition such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Understanding anxiety and migraine symptoms, and treatment options is crucial in effectively managing this condition. By making healthy lifestyle choices, seeking appropriate medical intervention, and utilizing at-home remedies, you can manage anxiety and migraine symptoms better and improve your overall well-being.
Ready to take control of your headache management? Give the Migraine Buddy app a try! Our user-friendly app helps you log headaches, symptoms, and triggers, making it easier to find relief when you need it most.
This article was written by Sarah Clark, one of our amazing #MBvolunteers. You can find her here.
1.Kumar R, Asif S, Bali A, Dang AK, Gonzalez DA. The Development and Impact of Anxiety With Migraines: A Narrative Review. Cureus. 2022;14(6):e26419. Published 2022 Jun 29. doi:10.7759/cureus.26419
2. “The Link Between Migraine, Depression and Anxiety” American Migraine Foundation, 2 May 2018, https://www.northsuffolkneurology.com/blog/recognizing-aphasia-during-a-migraine-attack-22559.html