Suicide Rate in Migraine Patients- Some Surprising Statistics

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How far would you go to get rid of a migraine attack– not just a headache, but rather a weeklong gut-turning, head-pounding assault of migraine headaches?  In prehistoric times, migraine patients resorted to drastic means like trepanation to relieve migraine symptoms.  Today, a startling percentage of migraine patients have either contemplated suicide… or successfully taken their own lives to end the despair caused by chronic pain.


Migraines attack the whole body- not just the head

People who have never experienced a migraine attack mistakenly believe that it’s just like a headache, only stronger. Nothing could be further from the truth!  First, daily headaches like tension headaches are caused by stressed, tense muscles.  Migraine headaches occur in the brain when your nervous system misinterprets certain migraine triggers as pain messages.  Migraine disorder is classified as a neurological disease.

Some of the symptoms of migraines include:

  • Sharp, severe head pain on one side of that head that lasts for several hours or days
  • Intense nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea
  • Migraine aura, consisting of strange visual hallucinations, olfactory hallucinations, temporary partial blindness, temporary partial paralysis, speech irregularities, altered sense of spatial awareness and time, loss of consciousness, and inability to communicate with or comprehend other people.
  • Hypersensitivity to things like bright lights, loud noises, and strong scents

Overcoming Social Isolation in Migraine Disorder


Suicide risk with migraine disorder

Researchers point to a high correlation of emotional problems in migraine headache sufferers to explain for a higher-than-average suicide rate.

  • The suicide rate in migraine patients is higher than that in the general population.  Out of all migraine sufferers, females who experience migraines with aura (MA) have the highest suicide rate.
  • People who have the most severe and frequent migraine attacks are more likely to contemplate suicide.
  • People who get migraines without aura (MwoA) are just as likely to contemplate suicide as those who suffer migraines with aura (MA), but they are less likely to act upon suicide ideation.
  • There is no significant suicide risk in people who suffer from chronic daily headaches (CDH).

Killer Migraines Might be Fatal after All- Mortality Rates among Migraine Sufferers

Depression is comorbid with migraines

Most chronic migraine sufferers battle with more than the migraine symptoms alone- they also have to contend with major depression and other emotional disorders.

  • In one study, about 26% of people who suffered from bipolar disorder also experienced frequent migraine attacks.
  • Migraine with aura patients are more likely to suffer multiple anxiety disorders, recurrent depression, and hypomania, compared with migraineurs who don’t experience aura.
  • Scientists speculate that various dysfunctions in the brain (like bipolar disorder) produce other brain dysfunctions like depression, seizures, and migraines with aura.


Migraine medications may raise suicide risk

There is some evidence that anticonvulsants meant to treat epilepsy, but also prescribed as a migraine treatment, may contribute to the high suicide rate among migraineurs.

Compared with topiramate (Topamax), the following migraine drugs are associated with high suicidal tendencies:

  • Gabapentin (Neurontin)- 40% higher than Topamax
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
  • Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
  • Tiagabine (Gabitril)

In a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), nearly 300,000 people who suffer from migraines, chronic pain, bipolar disorder, and epilepsy began taking one of 13 anticonvulsants.  None of the participants had any history of suicidal behavior.

After approximately 180 days, 26 patients committed suicide, and 801 attempted suicide.

Gabapentin, which is associated with the highest risk of suicide, is also one of the most frequently prescribed anticonvulsants for migraines (48%), followed by Topiramate (19.4%), Lamotrigine (7.5%), and Valproate (6.2%).

Read more about migraines and depression:

Can Anxiety Attacks cause Migraines?

Feeling Bipolar? The iTunes Store has 20 iPhone Apps for that- Part 1

Feeling Bipolar? The iTunes Store has 20 iPhone Apps for that- Part 2


Anticonvulsant Medications and the Risk of Suicide, Attempted Suicide, or Violent Death- JAMA

Psychiatric comorbidity and suicide risk in patients with chronic migraine

Migraine, psychiatric disorders, and suicide attempts: an epidemiologic study of young adults- PubMed, NCBI

Migraine: costs and consequences

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Julien Haler, mislav-m,