Migraine Surgery: Answer to Suicide Risk?

June 25, 2013

The fact that chronic migraines are linked with mental health issues like depression and anxiety is no surprise.  In fact substantial research and anecdotal evidence confirms these conditions are likely to co-exist if not actually cause one another.  However, a new research study from the Veterans Affairs Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center points to a connection between migraines and elevated suicide risk. 

The study reports this increased risk is due to the chronic pain suffered by migraineurs rather than any associated mental health problem such as depression.  Chronic migraine sufferers may qualify for a procedure such as migraine surgery when other forms of treatment have failed.  For individuals who suffer with chronic pain, hopelessness can be a dangerous problem.

The Veterans Affairs research study linking chronic migraine pain with suicide risk was reported on WebMd.  The scientists identified patients who suffered with chronic pain from among 4.8 million individuals who were treated during a single year.  After 3 years they found those with chronic pain experienced an elevated risk for suicide.  These findings excluded the cases in which mental illness was the causative factor.  According to the report, a retired military psychiatrist said, “It makes sense that pain is a risk factor for suicide. Often, suicide has several different things going on, but pain can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of a person’s decision not to go on.” For these people, migraine surgery may just be the right answer to the question of ‘whether they can go on?”

According to the study, which was published in JAMA Psychiatry, physicians should be aware that certain patients should be screened for suicide risk.  It suggests that individuals with chronic migraine pain, who may in fact be ideal candidates for migraine surgery, should be asked about whether their pain is affecting daily life.  A co-author of the study also recommended that friends and family of these people watch for signs of extreme depression and hopelessness.  A great support network of loved ones and an attentive medical care team can go a long way toward lifting the hopelessness and getting effective and long lasting migraine pain treatment.


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