Living with migraine is tough. But stack ADHD on top it, and it takes those challenges to a whole new level.
And believe it or not, this combo is more common than you’d think. Research shows there’s a connection between migraine and ADHD. People with migraine are more likely to have ADHD – and vice versa.
This article breaks down what the science has to say about this link and offer tips and tools for treating ADHD and migraine.
ADHD and Migraine: What’s the Relationship?
On the surface, migraine and ADHD may seem to have little in common. Besides both being health conditions that severely disrupt your life.
But studies have found the two are comorbid disorders – in adults and children.
One 2011 study found that migraine is far more common among adults with ADHD. In the study:
- Men with ADHD were over twice as likely to have migraine (22.5% vs. 10.7%)
- The difference was significant for women as well (34.4% vs. 24.9%)
Another 2018 study analyzed data from 26,456 participants from the Danish Blood Donor study. They too found a strong association between migraine and ADHD.
Unlike the previous study, the risk of ADHD and migraine was more pronounced in females. They also found that the risk increased with age, peaking in the early 50s.
The migraine-ADHD comorbidity was even more profound for adults with migraine with aura.
But link rings true for children as well. One study of 5,671 children found that ADHD is far more prevalent in children with migraine. What’s more, as migraine frequency increased, so did ADHD risk.
So clearly, the two conditions are connected. Yet, the whys aren’t fully understood.
Can ADHD Cause Migraines?
Researchers aren’t sure. Some believe the comorbidity is related to genetic and environmental factors. This suggests that certain people may simply be susceptible to both conditions.
But many other theories try to explain their connection as well. Here are a few:
Some research suggests that ADHD may be due to dopamine dysfunction. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in memory, mood, attention, and much more.
Known as a ‘feel good hormone’ it plays a part in the reward centers of your brain. In short, it helps you feel happy and keeps your motivation up. So when dopamine goes awry, it can present challenges.
And it turns out, dopamine may play a role in migraine as well. There is evidence that migraine symptoms may be triggered by changes in dopamine.
One study found that migraineurs tend to have normal dopamine levels between migraine attacks. Yet, they often fall right before an attack.
While dopamine may explain part of the migraine-ADHD connection, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Mood disorder comorbidity
People with migraine and ADHD are both at increased risk of having anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. This suggests that people with both disorders may share some genetic predispositions.
The stress connection
Living with ADHD or migraine is stressful. Time management and attention issues may cause people with ADHD to fall behind at school or work. Impulsivity may also lead those with ADHD to behaviors they regret later.
Headaches only exacerbate attention and impulsivity issues. All this adds an extra layer of stress – which is the most common migraine trigger.
Can ADHD Meds Make Migraines Worse?
Some wonder whether ADHD meds may set migraine off or aggravate existing symptoms.
Stimulants, such as Adderall or Ritalin, are the most common type of ADHD medication. These meds work by increasing neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Headaches are a common side effect of starting treatment. Usually, these headaches wane as your body adjusts. That said, ADHD meds may cause other symptoms that trigger migraine.
For example, loss of appetite is one of the most common side effects of stimulants. In fact, it happens for 80% of people. And for many, skipping meals can trigger migraine attacks.
Stimulants can also rev you up and make it more difficult to sleep. And since lack of sleep is a common migraine trigger, this can present problems.
How Do You Treat Migraine with ADHD?
Many medications are available for treating both migraine and ADHD. But as mentioned, these meds often come with a long list of side effects, which may compound problems.
These drugs serve a purpose. But often the path of least resistance is to start with a more natural approach.
So here are a few tips and tools that can help manage symptoms of migraine, whether you have ADHD or not.
Know your triggers
Migraine can be triggered by many environmental and lifestyle factors, including:
- Skipping meals
- Hormonal changes
- Lack of sleep
- Alcohol or caffeine
- Bright lights
- Intense exercise
- Loud noises
- Weather changes
- Certain foods such as chocolate, aged cheeses, deli meats, or foods with MSG or aspartame
Everyone’s migraine triggers are unique. So to keep migraine at bay, knowing your own triggers is key.
One simple way to pinpoint your triggers is to keep a migraine journal. (Download our FREE migraine diary here.) Or if you find applications easier to use, Migraine Buddy is a good one.
This can help you track your symptoms and connect the dots to any troublesome triggers. That way you can avoid these things to reduce future attacks.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Many simple lifestyle habits benefit both ADHD and migraine. Adding these habits to your daily routine may ease symptoms and even prevent future migraine attacks from occurring.
Here are some healthy lifestyle habits that can help:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Poor sleep can trigger migraine attacks and aggravate ADHD symptoms. So practice good sleep hygiene. Limit screen time before bed, give yourself time to wind down, and sleep in a dark, quiet room. And don’t be afraid to get nutritional support if needed.
- Eat a healthy diet. Food additives and artificial colors in processed foods can worsen ADHD symptoms. So stick to a wholesome diet filled with fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. And if you have migraine, keep your trigger foods off the menu.
- Manage stress. As mentioned, stress is the #1 migraine trigger. And living with ADHD or migraine presents mountains of stress. So keep a lid on stress by setting aside time for daily relaxation – whether that’s yoga, meditation, or playing with a pet.
- Exercise regularly. Physical movement is a great way to boost your mood and burn off stress. But it also helps your brain! Research shows exercise improves memory and executive functioning and even promotes dopamine release. Just don’t overdo it, as intense exercise can trigger migraine for some.
Get nutritional support
Migraine and ADHD are both linked with certain nutritional deficiencies. Children with ADHD often have lower levels of vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Luckily, research shows supplementing with these nutrients can improve emotional and behavioral problems that come with ADHD.
Migraineurs are often low in vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and magnesium. Evidence reveals supplementing with these nutrients may serve as a preventative treatment for migraine.
Fortunately, we offer formulas tailor-made for migraine and ADHD:
- Migrelief includes magnesium, riboflavin, and Puracol feverfew, for a triple shot of targeted migraine support.
- Attentivite comes in customized AM/PM formulas to improve focus and support deep, restorative sleep.
Visit our shop here to check out all our migraine nutritional formulas and other condition-specific supplements.
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