The Connection Between Migraine Headache and Bipolar Disorder

April 20, 2016

migraine and bipolar

Migraine headache and bipolar disorder are two conditions that are not completely understood by the medical community. Both migraine sufferers and people who live with bipolar depression also report that they feel that their conditions are misunderstood by family, friends and coworkers. But these aren’t the only two things migraine headaches and bipolar disorder have in common – a review just published in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain found that migraine headaches and bipolar disorder found that there is a high rate of people, particularly women, who suffer from both conditions.

Migraines and Mental Health Conditions

A migraine is the most disabling headache disorder and it’s estimated that 12-13% of the population suffers from the unbearable symptoms of a migraine. Women are diagnosed with migraine headaches at a rate nearly three times higher than men. It can be hard to get help for migraines when you suffer from a psychiatric condition like bipolar disorder. The symptoms of both conditions may overlap, confusing healthcare providers and making diagnosis and treatment difficult. In addition, the chronic pain of migraines can cause or worsen mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. At the same time, mental health problems can trigger migraines.

Bipolar Disorder and Migraines

Anyone who is coping with bipolar disorder can tell you about the severity of the condition. Bipolar disorder involves a challenging, chronic cycle of elevated mood followed by periods of depression, then the cycle repeats. It is estimated that about one percent of the population lives with bipolar disorder. Some people experience more depressive episodes than manic ones, again complicating diagnosis and treatment. Because there is an association between migraine and depression, it may be harder for migraineurs to receive the treatment they need for bipolar disorder.

The connection between migraines and bipolar disorder is so strong that over one-third of people living with bipolar suffer from migraines. Researchers think that there may be a genetic abnormality in serotonin, dopamine and glutamine neurotransmitters that contributes to both migraine headaches and bipolar disorder.

Getting Treatment for Migraines and Bipolar Disorder

The most important thing to remember when you’re seeking care for migraines when you have bipolar disorder is to find a headache specialist who really understands your condition. Your headache specialist should value your opinions about your treatment and how they affect your mental health. A provider who can take the time to listen to your history and your concerns for the future can make the difference in you finding the migraine treatment that works for you.


Leo, R. J., & Singh, J. (2016). Migraine headache and bipolar disorder comorbidity: A systematic review of the literature and clinical implications. Scandinavian Journal of Pain, 11, 136-145. doi:10.1016/j.sjpain.2015.12.002


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