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Migraines Can Mean More Than Just Headaches

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Launer also uncovered another common problem. A full 54% of subjects in her study did not have a diagnosis of migraine from a physician, she tells WebMD. "Many people are still not seeking treatment when there's a whole set of new drugs available," she says.

Another study finds a "highly significant link" between depression and migraine, says author Richard B. Lipton, MD, professor of neurology and epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

In a survey of 468 people in the U.S. and 261 in the U.K., Lipton found that those with migraines had significantly lower quality-of-life scores than people without migraines. Not surprisingly, "we also found that as headache-related disability got worse, quality of life got worse," Lipton tells WebMD.

Researchers also found a "link that confirms what we've known -- that depression and migraine often coexist," Lipton says. In his study, 47% of migraine sufferers had depression, compared to 17% of people without migraines.

But depression does not always accompany migraine, Lipton tells WebMD. "The two disorders are clearly separable disorders; most people who have one don't always have the other."

Which condition controls quality of life? Lipton says he had thought depression might be the determining factor, but that's not necessarily so. "Migraine and depression independently affect quality of life," he tells WebMD. "If you have migraine and not depression, you still have substantially reduced quality of life."

Too often, says Lipton, physicians consider depression a byproduct of migraine -- "Of course you're depressed. You get migraines every week." And some doctors treating depression may consider a patient's headache complaint to be a manifestation of the depression.

"Quite likely they are separate problems that require treatment," Lipton tells WebMD. "Some medicines that prevent migraine also prevent depression."

Calling the two studies "large and well-designed," Werner J. Becker, MD, writes in an accompanying editorial that they "advance our knowledge of migraine." It's also clear, adds Becker, "that many patients with migraine never see a physician for their headaches, and many who do are never referred to specialists."

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