Recently, I found myself feeling especially irritable and, seemingly out of nowhere, quite depressed. I wasn’t having an especially great day but there was no clear reason for things to go downhill so suddenly. I’d been dealing with some early warning signs of a migraine but didn’t think the two were connected…until I typed a quick Google search. Could this bout of depression be another migraine prodrome symptom? It turns out migraine prodrome depression may be a very real symptom.
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What Is Migraine Prodrome?
Migraine prodrome is a term used to describe the group of symptoms that may occur before a migraine headache. For me, migraine prodrome symptoms always seemed pretty predictable: light and sound sensitivity, food cravings, neck pain and stiffness, and even yawning. Some people may also experience aura, a group of visual or other sensory disturbances that can precede a migraine headache.
This stage occurs from a few hours to a few days before the migraine headache itself. For some, this is also the prime time for taking rescue meds—some, like the triptans my doctor’s prescribed, should be taken as early as possible for the best results.
The prodrome is the opposite of a postdrome, or ”migraine hangover.”
Migraine Prodrome Depression
Clinical depression and chronic migraine are both common and complex conditions. Many patients find that both are impacting their daily lives, leading experts to suspect a strong connection between chronic migraine and depression. In short, the two conditions feed off of each other, creating a vicious cycle in which the pain from migraine makes people feel depressed, and the depression makes the migraine pain worse.
There are a number of possible reasons for this connection. One theory is that the pain from migraine can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and pessimism, which can in turn trigger depression. Additionally, the medications used to treat migraine often have side effects that can worsen mood, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and weight gain–though some of these same medications are actually antidepressants.
Of course, a quick note is in order: if you are experiencing depression or chronic migraine, it is important to seek help. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and what treatment might be best for you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are many treatment options available that can help.
Depression as a Warning Sign of a Migraine
Mood changes are one of the most common prodromal symptoms of a migraine. People may feel irritable, depressed, or anxious. Some studies, like one referenced in a 2022 article in the Journal of Affective Disorders, argue that depressive symptoms are not an ”early warning sign for an upcoming [migraine] attack.” Other experts, like those at the American Migraine Foundation, for example, consider depression to be a key migraine prodrome symptom.
Now that I’ve put two and two together, I absolutely see the connection. I was previously misdiagnosed as having major depressive disorder before my autism diagnosis and, in retrospect, absolutely see a correlation between bouts of depressive symptoms and impending migraines.
For me, these prodrome symptoms seem to come in bursts. Most recently, the bout of depression came after a bit of severe nausea, which came after some severe irritability and some food cravings. You may find yours occur in a similar way, or that you get a “perfect storm” of pre-migraine symptoms.
Coping With Depression as a Migraine Prodrome Symptom
If you are one of the many people who experience depression as a symptom of the migraine prodrome stage, you know how difficult it can be to cope with. Fortunately, there are some things that can help manage your depressive symptoms and improve your quality of life even with chronic migaine.
Talk to your doctor.
If you are experiencing depression as a result of your migraines, it is important to talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe you medication that can help improve your mood. Many medications for depression are also used as medications for migraine, so you may even get a pill that does double-duty. Whether you deal with clinical depression as a comorbid condition, you face depressive symptoms as a migraine prodrome symptom, or you’re feeling depressed as a result of chronic migraines, a medical professional can help you find some relief.
If you’re looking for migraine treatment via telehealth, Cove is an easy way to talk to a qualified medical professional and get the care you need. Or, if you’re in need of treatment for migraine alongside other conditions, consider trying PlushCare. You can get the first three months’ membership free when you start seeing a primary care physician through our referral link.
Get enough sleep.
Getting enough sleep is essential for good mental and physical health. Of course, trouble sleeping is often another warning sign of an oncoming migraine! Try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, practicing good sleep hygiene and sticking to a routine as much as possible.
Seek support from friends and family.
Friends and family can be great sources of support during times of depression. This is even more true if your loved ones deal with migraine, too. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and ask for their help in managing your feelings of depression and other migraine symptoms. They might be able to help distract you, direct you to helpful resources, or simply be there for you when it feels like no one else is.
Seek professional help.
If you find that you are struggling to manage your depressive symptoms on your own, it may be helpful to seek professional help. A therapist can help you learn how to cope with your depression and manage your migraines. While migraine is by no means “all in your head,” cognitive behavioral therapy or similar treatments might make them easier to deal with.
I recommend Talkspace online therapy for mental health care! I use the platform myself and have made so much progress with my Talkspace therapist.
Clinical depression and chronic migraine are both serious conditions–and symptoms of one can all too easily be intertwined with the other. If you’re dealing with depressive symptoms due to migraine or migraine prodrome, there are ways you can implement coping mechanisms into your migraine treatment plan and get that much closer to an ideal life even with migraine.