Migraines and ADHD in adults

February 28, 2023 - Reading time: 7 minutes
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This article, medically reviewed by Dr. Adeel Sarwar, explores an emerging correlation between ADHD and migraine. Migraines are chronic, recurring headaches ranging from moderate to severe intensity. Migraine attacks typically involve debilitating head pain plus other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

While ADHD and migraines have different defining features, studies reveal the two conditions co-occur at significantly higher rates than chance. Intriguingly, ADHD and migraine appear to share similar risk factors, including genetic vulnerabilities, brain abnormalities, and environmental exposures.

The reasons behind the overlap are complex and still being unraveled. However, the potential ADHD-migraine connection may have important implications for comprehensive screening, diagnosis, and treatment. Gaining clarity on the relationship could ultimately improve quality of life for those managing both chronic disorders.

Risk Factors for Migraine and ADHD

According to the 4,824 participants in the study, 23.1% of those with ADHD reported having migraines, compared to 11.5% of those without ADHD. According to a different study that was written up in the journal Headache, children who have ADHD are more likely than their non-ADHD counterparts to suffer from migraines. The study, which included 46 control children and 61 children with ADHD, found that 54.1% of the latter group experienced migraines, compared to 19.6% of the latter group

Study ADHD and Migraine Non-ADHD and Migraine
Study 1 (4,824 participants) 23.1% 11.5%
Study 2 (107 total participants) 54.1% 19.6%

There are a number of plausible explanations, even though the precise mechanisms underlying the link between ADHD and migraine are not fully understood. One theory is that the risk factors for both diseases are genetic and environmental. For instance, variations in genes involved in the control of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin have been linked to both ADHD and migraine. Both conditions have also been linked to environmental factors like disturbed sleep and a poor diet, as well as early life stressors like trauma, abuse, and neglect.

Common Brain Abnormalities in Migraine and ADHD

Another potential explanation for the link between ADHD and migraine is that the two conditions share common underlying brain abnormalities. Neuroimaging studies have found that individuals with ADHD and migraine both exhibit alterations in brain structure and function, particularly in regions involved in the regulation of attention and pain. Similarly, studies have found that individuals with migraine exhibit altered brain function in regions such as the hypothalamus and brainstem, which are involved in pain processing and regulation.

The association between ADHD and migraine may also be mediated by common comorbidities. For example, both conditions have been associated with anxiety and depression, which can exacerbate symptoms and impair functioning. Additionally, both conditions have been associated with sleep disturbances, which can further exacerbate symptoms and impair daily functioning. Finally, both conditions have been associated with medication overuse, particularly the use of stimulant medications for ADHD and pain medications for migraine.

Migraine and Women

Migraine and Men

  • One study found that men with ADHD were more than twice as likely to have migraines as other me.
  • The prevalence of migraine in male ADHD patients was lower than in female patients, but the difference was smaller than expected from a random population sample.

These statistics highlight the association between ADHD and migraine, as well as the differences in prevalence between men and women with ADHD. Further research is needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms and implications of this

Treatment Implications for Patients with Migraine and ADHD

It is not clear whether treating one condition can improve outcomes for the other. Some studies have suggested that treating ADHD with stimulant medications may actually exacerbate migraine symptoms, while others have found no significant effects. Additionally, it is not clear whether treating migraine with medications such as triptans or preventive medications can improve ADHD symptoms.

In conclusion, there is growing evidence to suggest that there may be a significant association between ADHD and migraine. While the exact mechanisms underlying this association are not fully understood, it is likely that both conditions share common genetic, environmental, and neurobiological risk factors.


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adeelDr. Adeel Sarwar, PhD, is a mental health professional specialising in a broad spectrum of psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Armed with years of experience and extensive training in evidence-based therapeutic practices, Dr. Sarwar is deeply committed to delivering empathetic and highly effective treatment.