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If you get migraine headaches, you have a higher risk of also having one of several other health conditions. Or, you might be at greater risk for developing another condition in the future. Migraines have been tied to concerns ranging from depression to asthma to heart disease.

Depression
If you have “episodic” migraines (those that occur once in a while), you have double the risk of depression than someone without any migraines. If you have chronic migraines (15 or more days a month), your risk doubles again, says Dr. Lipton, also a professor and vice chair of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

While it’s possible that people with migraines become depressed because of the pain, the depression can also come first. This suggests the two have something in common–genes or neurology or both. “The prevailing belief is that there’s some shared underlying predisposition to both disorders, and either one can come first,” says Dr. Lipton.

Some antidepressant drugs, notably amitriptyline, can actually treat migraines. Amitriptyline affects levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which raises the possibility that serotonin also plays a role in migraines.

Anxiety
People with chronic migraines are even more likely to have an anxiety disorder than they are depression: Around half of people with migraines also have anxiety, according to the American Migraine Foundation.

Like with depression, the anxiety or the migraines can come first, says Teshamae Monteith, MD, director of the headache program and assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Patients that have anxiety in life are more likely to develop migraines, and vice versa.”

Sometimes one treatment (often an antidepressant) works for both conditions; other times, people need separate treatments–medications for migraines and behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders. It’s important to find an anxiety treatment that works. People who go untreated may be less likely to stick with their migraine meds and may not respond as well to the drugs either.

Stroke
Several studies have found a link between strokes caused by blood clots and migraines with aura, the visual or other sensory symptoms that sometimes precede the actual migraine attack.

People who have migraines with aura have about twice the risk of a stroke as the general population, says Dr. Lipton, but overall, that risk is still very small. “Migraine, particularly with aura, is largely a disease of younger women and women are at a lower risk of stroke than men. Even though the risk doubles, it’s still incredibly low.”

Even so, there are ways to lower that risk even more by maintaining healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels and not smoking.

Epilepsy
The seizure disorder epilepsy and migraine can both involve sensory disturbances and mood changes. Having one doubles your risk of the other, says Dr. Lipton, but either can come first. ”They’re both disorders of brain excitability, where the brain is likely to react to environmental stimuli, to sleep deprivation,” he says. “Some of the specific genetic causes of migraine also cause epilepsy.”

Because of those shared causes and brain reactions, certain anti-epilepsy drugs like topiramate and divalproex sodium can treat both conditions.

Heart disease
In addition to having a higher risk of stroke, both men and women with migraines (with aura in particular) also have a higher risk of heart disease, especially heart attacks. One study also found that migraine sufferers were more likely to have risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure and diabetes.

To keep yourself as healthy as possible, control your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

Asthma
Even though asthma is a respiratory disorder and migraine is a neurological condition, the two can go together. The common denominator may be inflammation.

“In asthma, there’s inflammation and excessive constriction of the airways,” says Dr. Lipton. “In migraine, there’s excessive inflammation of the blood vessels just outside the brain.” In fact, it’s this inflammation of the blood vessels outside the brain that may cause the excruciating throbbing pain that is the hallmark of a migraine headache.

The asthma drug montelukast can also help prevent migraines, says Dr. Lipton.

Pain disorders
Many pain disorders, including fibromyalgia and chronic pain of the neck, back, and shoulders, tend to go hand-in-hand with migraines, as well as other types of headaches.

It’s unclear exactly how migraines and other painful conditions are linked. “Some people may have genetic predispositions,” says Dr. Monteith, or it might have to do with pain medications themselves. “Patients that take medications for low back pain or other types of pain may become sensitive to the pain medication and might get overuse headaches,” she says.

Treatment depends on where the pain is coming from, but cognitive behavioral therapy as well as alternative therapies like acupuncture can help, says Dr. Monteith.

 

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