People with severe headaches, whether migraines or not, may be more likely to attempt suicide, a new study suggests.
While the findings don't prove that headaches cause suicide attempts, they do support a number of other studies over the years that have found that higher suicide rates in migraine sufferers.
But it has not been clear whether the link is related specifically to the "biology of migraines," said Dr. Naomi Breslau of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who led the new study. "We haven't known if it was the migraines or the pain more generally," Dr. Breslau told Reuters Health.
Based on these latest findings, it may be the severity of the pain that matters, migraine or not, she and her colleagues say.
The study, reported online March 9th in Headache, followed close to 500 migraine sufferers, 150 patients with severe headaches that weren't migraine, and roughly 900 controls who were free of serious headaches.
Over two years, the migraine and severe-headache groups had similar rates of attempted suicide, almost 9% in the migraine group and 10% in the group with non-migraine headaches. In the control group, the rate of suicide attempts was just above 1%.
"We're ruling out that it's only migraine" that's related to suicide risk, Dr. Breslau said. Usually, she added, common tension-type headaches "don't come close" to the pain severity of migraines. But they can in some cases.
In this study, severe non-migraines were defined as an intense headache lasting more than four hours.
So why are severe headaches related to suicide risk? Depression plays some role, Dr. Breslau said, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
When Dr. Breslau's team factored in people's history of depression, anxiety and past suicide attempts, they found that headache patients, whether migraine or not, were still four to six times more likely to attempt suicide than were people in the control group.
There may be some biological underpinnings at work, the researchers say. Serotonin and other chemicals, for example, are thought to be involved in severe headaches, and derangements in those chemicals have also been linked to suicide risk.
Headache 2012. Abstract
Amy Norton • Reuters Health Information © 2012