The Physical Link Between ADHD and Migraines
Having ADHD makes you more likely to experience migraine headaches. Studies have shown that children with ADHD may be twice as likely to experience headaches as are children without ADHD. Also, children with ADHD have a greater risk for migraines than children without ADHD, and the frequency of migraine headaches may be directly linked to risk of ADHD. The issue extends into adulthood as well. One study estimates that migraines occur with ADHD in about 35% of adult patients.
Research indicates that headaches, including migraine headaches, appear to be triggered by ADHD. While more research is needed to fully establish the mechanism, scientists theorize that headaches may be biologically linked to ADHD, and their co-occurrence may result in part from shared pathophysiological mechanisms potentially related to a dopamine dysfunction.
Triggers and Symptoms of Migraine
While individuals can everyone migraines experiences differently, there are certain symptoms which are more common, including:
- Severe throbbing or dull aching head pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Visual disturbances
- Extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch
- Tingling or numbness, particularly in the face or hands
- Tenderness in the scalp
Many of these symptoms can result from aura, a set of sensory disturbances which about 25% of migraine sufferers experience. Aura is generally a visual phenomenon and may include seeing flashes, spots or temporary sight loss. Often, this starts at the center of vision and moves to one side. Migraine with aura, also called “classic migraine,” has a particularly strong link with ADHD.
Events or conditions that commonly trigger include:
- A change in sleep patterns, skipping meals or fasting, dehydration, alcohol, overexertion, exercise, stress.
- Strong smells, fluorescent or bright lights, smoke, pollution, altitude, air pressure changes like those that occur in an airplane, motion sickness.
- Changes in weather, including temperature or barometric pressure, humidity (both high and low), bright sunlight.
- Overuse of pain medications (both over-the-counter and prescription), or side effects from a medication.
- Specific foods may become triggers when combined with other triggers. Common food triggers include artificial sweeteners, MSG, nitrates, fermented foods, aged cheeses, freshly baked yeast bread, alcohol, and caffeine.
Note that triggers can vary for each person, and something that triggers a migraine for one person doesn’t necessarily always act as a trigger for another.
Migraine requires both acute and preventive treatments. Over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs (e.g., triptans) can help once a migraine attack begins. Other medications, such as beta-blockers, can help prevent migraine before it begins. Other types of treatment can include:
- Nerve stimulation
It’s also recommended that those with migraine consider making specific lifestyle changes. Getting plenty of sleep, not skipping any meals, and avoiding your triggers, such as alcohol or particular foods, can help lower the risk of developing a migraine. To help determine your triggers, it is a good idea to keep a migraine journal and note the date and time, the duration, any medications taken and the symptoms (including whether aura was present). This will also help your healthcare provider better determine what treatments will be most effective.
ADHD and migraines co-occur and can affect the symptoms of both conditions. It is important to work with qualified and licensed healthcare providers who can conduct an evaluation for both conditions. Keep in mind that more than one professional may be needed for these evaluations. For an evaluation of migraines, a certified headache specialist or comprehensive headache center that uses a collaborative approach to treatment can work with your healthcare provider who is focused on ADHD. This will allow the professionals to coordinate a treatment plan tailored to your needs.