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Report links migraines, risk of depression

February 22, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A new report coming out of an ongoing women's health study found an interesting link between migraines and depression.

When you're in charge of 350 hospital volunteers, you're always in demand. But several times a month, Gaby Evans, who works at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, gets a migraine. The pain pulsates around her left temple and she feels it behind her eye.

"Sometimes it makes me very lethargic, I feel very tired and sleepy, and sometimes I feel nauseous, and sometimes I have ... up chucked at times," she said.

One in five Americans suffer from migraines. It affects three times more women than men. Now, new research suggests women who suffer from migraines are 40 percent more likely to develop depression than women without a migraine history.

To understand why, neurologist John Cohenour says people need to know how foods like chocolate and cheese trigger a domino effect in the brain.

"There has to be some sort of chemical connection between what you ingest and what actually happens in the blood vessels," Cohenour said.

But exactly how do these foods constrict blood vessels? Experts say they trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that includes the brain chemical serotonin, which is tied to depression.

"Depression and migraines have a really strong co-morbid connection. One doesn't cause the other, but they are seen in the same people, and therefore, most likely have similar genetic signatures," Cohenour said.

So what can you do? Cohenour suggests migraine sufferers talk to their doctors about how to manage their pain with a combination of prescription medications and stress-relief techniques.

These findings are being reported at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting.

Of the 6,500 women who reported suffering from current or past migraines, about 4,000 went on to develop depression over a 14-year follow-up period.