Researchers Find Possible Link between Migraine and Serotonin Levels


People who suffer from migraines who also feel anxious or depressed during these spells have long believed that the conditions may be connected. Now, their feelings are being validated by a new study that suggests that the same chemical imbalance could be responsible for all three conditions. It’s a development that could result in superior treatments for sufferers. Links between anxiety, depression and a proclivity for intense migraine headaches have been suggested by past research, but the precise nature of the connection, or even if there was really was such a connection at all, has never been clear – until now.

The new study

In the new study, which was published in Headache, National Defense Medical Center researchers in Taiwan examined 409 patients that had looked for treatment due to persistent migraines and recorded a variety of clinical and demographic characteristics in the patients, in addition to 179 control subjects.

The researchers discovered that there was a direct link between the severity of anxiety and depression, and the frequency of migraines. The latter were not found to be at all influenced by other factors such as gender, coffee, alcohol or the presence of (normally visual) sensory disturbances that can accompany migraines. The new study offered confirmation of the fact that individuals who suffer from frequent migraines are more likely also to suffer serious anxiety and depression symptoms, regardless of other factors. The study did not see evidence that one was the cause of the other, but that anxiety and depression are influenced by migraines.

The confirmation of the link between the three conditions offer a suggestion that decreasing the frequency of headaches with better medical treatment could also help cut down on the risk of anxiety and depression in patients who suffer from migraines, according to the author of the study, Fu-Chi Yang. Yang is a neuroscientist at the Taiwan Tri-Service General Hospital at the National Defense Medical Center.

The war on migraines

Migraine is a very common form of health condition, which affects around one in fifteen men and one in five women, and usually commences during adulthood. As well as a throbbing pain that usually centres on one particular side of the head, migraine sufferers can also have other symptoms, including the likes of nausea, increased sensitivity to sound or light, and vomiting. Migraines differ from normal headaches in a number of ways, and there are several different kinds of migraine.

• Migraine with aura, flashing lights that can be seen just prior to the commencement of the migraine

• Migraine without aura, which is the most common form and occurs without warning signs

• Silent migraine, a rare form of migraine in which sufferers experience some symptoms such as the aura, but which does not develop into a headache

There are some people suffering from the condition that actually experience migraines several times within the space of just one week, while others may only suffer the occasional incident; and it’s even possible for several years to pass before suffering another attack.

People who suffer severe or frequent migraines should visit a GP for help and advice. Sometimes simple painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can provide an effective treatment for the condition, but taking such medication in excess can actually result in the headaches becoming more difficult to treat in the future.

There are a number of reasons why there could be connections between migraines and emotional distress, according to the researchers. One theory is that serotonin, a chemical that is a product of the nervous system, becomes less active after several migraines, resulting in a lowering of the pain threshold. This causes increased pain sensitivity, which itself can cause ever more serious migraines and is known to play a role in anxiety and depression.

There is still no known cause for migraines, although one widespread belief is that they are triggered by temporary changes in the brain’s blood vessels, chemicals and nerves, and many people have found individual triggers such as tiredness, stress and certain foods and drinks. The emergence of any clues as to the connection between emotions and the psychology surrounding the condition could be a great benefit in the future.