Author: Zia Sherrell
Medical News Today
People with ADHD may experience symptoms including difficulty concentrating, excessive physical movements, impulsivity, and becoming easily distracted. In addition to behavioral challenges, individuals may also experience physical symptoms such as migraine headaches.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a chronic developmental disorder marked by difficulty regulating attention and behavior. Doctors have diagnosed approximately 6 million children with ADHD in the United States, and boys are almost twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of the condition.
Migraine is a common neurological condition affecting almost 40 million people in the U.S. It causes recurring throbbing headaches that often occur with visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. The symptoms can be severe and disabling.
This article explores the associations between ADHD and migraine. It also covers migraine prevention tips and treatment.
Can ADHD cause a migraine, and how?
Having ADHD can make an individual more likely to experience migraine episodes. For example, in a study from 2010 involving over 1,000 men, researchers noted that those with ADHD were more than twice as likely to experience migraine episodes.
Additionally, in a large 2017 study of 5,671 children, researchers noted that the severity of their ADHD symptoms related directly to the frequency of their migraine episodes.
Researchers also confirmed the association between ADHD and migraine in a 2018 study in Denmark. The study assessed over 26,000 participants for migraine and ADHD using clinically validated questionnaires, and the results showed a strong association between the two conditions. There is also a significant interplay between age and gender, with the likelihood of both conditions increasing with age and female sex.
The authors suggested that individuals with a genetic predisposition to ADHD or migraine may be predisposed to both. But experts still do not fully understand the correlation between ADHD and migraine, and many factors influence an individual’s risk.
For example, women tend to experience migraine episodes more frequently than men, potentially due to hormonal fluctuations, and other research from 201 has linked migraine to mood and anxiety disorders.1
Further studies will help doctors understand the association between ADHD and migraine.
People can minimize the chances of having a migraine episode by recognizing and avoiding specific triggers. Common triggers include:
- changes in sleep schedule
- changes in the weather
Because these triggers are different for everyone living with migraine, it is a good idea to keep a migraine journal to help identify potential triggers.
When an individual experiences a migraine episode, they should note:
- the date
- the time
- any warning signs
- the symptoms
- if aura was present
- medication used
- when the episode ended
People may find that a particular food, activity, or other factor triggers a migraine. Once they understand their triggers, they can avoid or minimize them to help prevent an episode.
Although ADHD migraines are painful and can affect an individual’s life, various treatments help manage the condition.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
People can easily purchase OTC pain relief medication from a pharmacy, and they are typically more affordable than prescription medications. OTC migraine medications include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium with one active ingredient, and products such as Excedrin that combine several.
An individual should try to use pain-relieving medication at the first sign of a migraine, as it is when they are most effective.
People should note that regular, frequent use of OTC medication to treat headaches can trigger medication overuse headaches, or rebound headaches. Frequent use of these medications can also lead to other physical health concerns if not monitored.
If an individual finds no relief in their migraine symptoms using OTC medications, their doctor may recommend prescription pain relievers such as triptans. Oral triptans include naratriptan (Amerge) and eletriptan (Relpax), and nasal sprays include sumatriptan (Tosymra) and zolmitriptan (Zomig).
There is an extensive range of available triptans, so if an individual has no success using one type, they should talk with their doctor about an alternative.
Calcitonin gene-related peptide antibodies (CGRP) monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)
CGRP mAbs are a newer type of injectable migraine treatment that includes erenumab (Aimovig) and fremanezumab (Ajovy). These medications reduce CGRP, which is involved in causing the pain of migraine episodes, and aim to help prevent an episode from developing.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves Botox treatment for those with chronic migraine.
Botox is a neurotoxin that temporarily blocks pain signals in the injection site in the face, head, and shoulders for around 3 months.
A person may need several treatments before results become apparent, with some people finding that their headache frequency decreases by 50% after their second treatment.
This therapy involves a person using a device to deliver electrical or magnetic pulses to the nerve, triggering a migraine episode.
Nerve stimulation can help decrease an individual’s pain, and there are no significant side effects associated with using the device.
Acupuncture involves placing needles at pressure points, which can help to slow pain transmission.
A 2012 systematic review evaluated clinical trials using acupuncture to treat migraine. The results showed that acupuncture is an effective treatment option. But it is essential to only use a licensed acupuncture practitioner if an individual considers this therapy.
Although ADHD is a developmental disorder with various psychological symptoms, some individuals may also experience physical symptoms.
For example, children with ADHD have 2.5 times the risk of developing unprovoked seizures. Additionally, in both adults and children with ADHD, other associations exist with:
- atopic eczema, a skin condition
- obesity and overweight
- digestive issues, including lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal polyps, diarrhea, and gastroenteritis
- allergic rhinitis, or inflammation of the nasal tissues due to allergies
Experts require further studies to fully understand the link between ADHD and physical symptoms, but it seems that the gut-brain axis plays a role.
The gut-brain axis is the term for the physical and biochemical connections between the digestive system and brain. The gut has millions of nerves that connect it to the brain, and it houses bacteria that affect the immune system.
People with ADHD seem to have a different gut microbiota made up of altered levels of common bacteria. Experts suggest that a lack of certain bacteria could lead to an overproduction of inflammatory cytokines, which trigger various responses in the body.
Experts believe there is a relationship between ADHD and migraine, but they do not fully understand the link between the two conditions.
Although migraine is a potentially incapacitating illness, a range of treatments may help prevent an episode or ease symptoms once an episode begins. Treatment options include OTC and prescription pain relievers, Botox injections, nerve stimulation, and acupuncture.
Individuals should keep a migraine journal to determine their triggers, including certain foods, stress, or changes in the weather. They can then work to avoid or minimize exposure to these triggers and help prevent a migraine episode from developing.