ADHD is a headache! The link between ADHD and migraine…

Pretty much everybody will have experienced a headache. But do people with ADHD have more headaches than the general population? and if so, why?

There are several different types of headaches. Common types of headaches include; tension headaches, cluster headaches, migraines and rebound headaches. The most common causes of primary headaches are likely to be tension-type headache and migraine. Of these, migraine headache probably requires a special mention as they can be particularly debilitating.

Migraines are not just a headache. These are a severe and painful long-term health condition. Migraine attacks can be a whole-body experience, and the symptoms can include the following:

  • Head pain
  • Problems with your sight such as seeing flashing lights
  • Extreme sensitivity to light, sounds and smells
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

The prevalence of migraine in the general population is thought to be around 12%, with a higher prevalence among females compared to males.

The most common types of migraine fall into two categories: migraine without aura (which is a warning sign, usually blind spots or flashing lights and migraine with aura.

ADHD and migraine

It is well established that migraine occurs more frequently in a number of psychiatric disorders, in particular, depressive and bipolar disorders. There is emerging evidence on whether there is a definite association between migraine and ADHD, as well as migraine and ADHD medications.

Population studies have reported an increased risk of headaches in people with ADHD and even in mothers of children who have ADHD. A relatively recent study reported an increased risk of migraine but not tension-type headaches in people with ADHD. It is possible that the risk of having migraines is between 1.8 and 2.8 fold higher than in the general population if you have ADHD. It is not believed that there are any specific associations between different presentations of ADHD and migraine risk.

Why do people with ADHD get migraines more often?

It is not fully understood why migraines might be increased in ADHD. it is likely that genetic and environmental factors contribute to the migraine-ADHD comorbidity.

ADHD medication, especially methylphenidate, may help reduce headache frequency, and supplements such as magnesium can help reduce the frequency of migraines. There are also effective medical treatments for preventing and treating migraine, so if this affects you speak to your doctor about what options are available.

Authors: James Brown PhD and Alex Conner PhD.

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