Migraine and Depression May Be Linked Genetically

by Teri Robert, Lead Expert

For quite some time, we've had research showing Migraine disease and depression to frequently be comorbid diseases -- occurring together, but neither causing the other. Whereas the prevalence of depression in the general population has been estimated at 17%, among Migraineurs, that figure jumps to a startling 47% in some studies. It has seemed obvious that there must be a link between the two diseases, but we didn't know what that link was.

Conversely, studies have shown patients with depression to have a higher prevalence of Migraine that patients without depression.

Additionally, it's been shown that Migraineurs with depression have a decreased quality of life and that comorbid depression is a risk factor for Migraine becoming chronic and for developing medication overuse headache.

Now, research shows that Migraine and depression may share a strong genetic component. The research is published in the January 13, 2010, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Genealogical information has shown them all to be part of a large extended family, which makes this type of genetic study possible.” ~ Gisela M. Terwindt, MD, PhD, study author3

The study

Study objective:

"To investigate the co-occurrence of Migraine and depression and assess whether shared genetic factors may underlie both diseases."1

Study methods:

  • The study participants were 2,652 participants of the Erasmus Rucphen Family genetic isolate study.*
  • Migraine was diagnosed using a validated three-stage screening method that included a telephone interview.
  • Symptoms of depression were assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale and the depression subscale of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS-D).
  • The contribution of shared genetic factors in Migraine and depression was investigated by comparing heritability estimates for Migraine with and without adjustment for symptoms of depression, and by comparing the heritability scores of depression between Migraineurs and controls.
  • The control group was comprised of participants who
    • did not report severe headache
    • did not report visual aura symptoms
    • had never been diagnosed with Migraine by
    • never used specific antimigraine medication
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