Depression (and anxiety) is 2-3 times more common in those suffering from migraines than in people without migraines.
Depression is not caused by migraines because patients who develop depression first are 2-3 times more likely to develop migraines than people without depression.
It is likely that abnormalities in the function of certain brain chemicals (serotonin, norepinephrine and other) that cause one condition predispose people to develop the other one as well.
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It appears that treatments that work for depression can help with migraines as well. We have always advised our patients that one of the best preventive treatments for migraines is to engage in aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes five days a week.
Possible reasons why this treatment works include relief of stress, improved blood circulation in the brain and the release of endorphins – natural painkilling substances. We did not have scientific studies to prove that we were right, but the majority of patients who followed this advice improved.
Now we have a scientific study that indirectly supports this treatment. The study by James Blumenthal and his colleagues, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, included 202 men and women who were diagnosed with major depression.
They were randomly assigned to one of four groups: one that worked out in a supervised, group setting three times per week; one that exercised at home; one that took the antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft); and one that took placebo pills.
After 16 weeks 47 percent of patients on the antidepressant recovered from depression. The same was true of 45 percent of those in the supervised exercise group and 40% in the home-based exercise group. In the placebo group 31 percent of patients improved.
The bottom line – exercise can help your depression and your migraine headaches.
Alexander Mauskop MD, FAAN, Associate Professor of Neurology at SUNY – Downstate Medical Center, is the Director and founder of the New York Headache Center. Dr. Mauskop is board-certified in Neurology with subspecialty certification in Headache Medicine. He has delivered over 400 scientific presentations and lectures and is a reviewer for the New England Journal of Medicine, Neurology, Headache, and several other medical journals. For the past 21 years, has been the Director of an annual educational symposium for physicians. Over 200 doctors from around the world have visited the New York Headache Center to learn advanced treatment techniques.
Dr. Mauskop is the author of Migraine and Headache (Oxford American Pain Library) and What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Migraines: The Breakthrough Program That Can Help End Your Pain.
He has repeatedly been chosen as one of New York magazine’s Best Doctors in New York, as one of New York Times Magazine’s, “Super Doctors” and as Castle and Connolly’s “Best Doctors”. Dr. Mauskop has appeared on television shows including Tom Brokaw’s News Hour, Extra, and PBS specials, and he has been featured in Vogue, O Magazine, and many other publications. He has given lectures at the medical schools of Cornell, Harvard, Columbia, NYU and Dartmouth, and at the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.
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