Blogs | Think Pieces

ADHD and Migraine: is there a link?

By: Oscar Harvey, Information and Support Advisor

22nd March 2024

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and migraine are both neurological conditions. They are separate conditions with their own challenges and symptoms, but research is emerging to show how they overlap. ADHD affects people’s behaviour, such as impulsiveness and difficulty with focus. Migraine involves symptoms that may include head pain, aura, sensitivity to light and sound.

In this blog, our Information and Support Advisor, Oscar, explores the link between the two conditions, both of which he has experience of:

“I was first diagnosed with migraine with aura at about 6 or 7 years old. I initially thought I had a superpower and could see fairies due to the glittery lights I would see floating about! Having ADHD is something I was made aware of when I was younger too, although it was originally something I was told to mask or that I could grow out of. Having both chronic migraine and ADHD is often a challenge. For me, my mind is always racing with at least 4 topics at once and I find it hard to relax. Stress can be a trigger for my migraine, and I think my ADHD exasperates this in my life. Sleep is also a big challenge, and 4-5 hours a night is a good amount for me. This doesn’t help my migraine though and I wake up with aura most mornings. It is an interplay I am still learning about for myself and thinking of ways to help both co-exist together, such as trying to build in relaxation and mindfulness practices into my everyday life. In many ways I love my ADHD – it makes me unstoppable and always think outside the box, and my migraine gives me great compassion for the many people on the helpline I speak with every day.”

Emerging research

While research is still in its early stages, studies have found people with ADHD, including children, are more likely to have migraine. Children with ADHD have been observed to be more likely to experience headaches and migraine than children without ADHD. This issue extends into adulthood as well, and there seems to be a comorbid link between people with migraine and people with ADHD, particularly migraine with aura. According to a Norwegian 2011 study, about a third of women (out of 572 people surveyed), and 22.5% of men surveyed with ADHD also experienced migraine attacks.[1] The exact link between the two conditions isn’t fully understood at the moment, but it’s clear from these figures that the rate of co-occurrence warrants more research, including examining whether genetics, environment, hormones or a combination of these are contributing factors. Below, we explore some of the ways in which the two conditions may be linked, including some of the ways that triggers may be interconnected.

Why might ADHD and migraine be linked?

One possible explanation for the link relates to a common factor in both conditions: experience of stress. Migraine can often co-occur with conditions like anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, and stress can be a common trigger for migraine. Similarly, ADHD frequently co-occurs with anxiety and mood disorders[2], and a high number of people with ADHD experience stress. This may explain why some people with ADHD also have migraine attacks. ADHD alone, especially when untreated, can affect quality of life and may contribute towards stressful environments and scenarios that can trigger headaches and migraine attacks.

We know that for many people who live with migraine, changes to, or inconsistency of, routine can be a trigger for migraine attacks. People with ADHD may struggle with time-management, self-regulation and difficulty sticking to schedules. This may mean people with ADHD who struggle with disorganisation may find their attacks are triggered more regularly. For example, those with difficulty adhering to sleep and food schedules or hydrating regularly may see an increase in their attacks, as these are all common triggers for migraine. Sleep problems and disorders are highly prevalent in people with ADHD, and hyper-focusing for people with ADHD may mean that regular eating and drinking are often missed, triggering a migraine attack.

In turn, migraine may exacerbate ADHD symptoms and create additional stressors, such as missing work, increasing drowsiness, and difficulty in moving about and a decrease in productivity. For some people, this can become a vicious circle.

Can ADHD medication cause migraine attacks?

Like migraine, people with ADHD may benefit from a number of different treatment options.  Stimulants that increase the level of dopamine in the brain are a common type of medication used to treat ADHD, and headaches are a common side effect of these ADHD medications[3]. They can also lead to a loss of appetite and trouble sleeping, both of which are a trigger for migraine. However, the headache side effect sometimes caused by these medications is usually mild and temporary. ADHD medication therefore will not cause migraine conditions, but rather it’s side effects may lead to symptoms that could trigger an attack in someone already predisposed to migraine (such as in the example of appetite suppression leading to skipped meals, which in turn triggers a migraine attack). Conversely, some studies have found that stimulants may help improve peoples’ migraine attacks. [4]

A holistic approach to care

The most effective approach to migraine and ADHD is for both individuals and healthcare professionals to recognise that they are connected and view them holistically. This will be helped by ADHD and headache specialists being aware of the link and recognising how the two conditions interact.

Keeping a headache diary to track symptoms, possible triggers and overlap of conditions can be helpful to understand the full picture of how someone’s ADHD and migraine may be linked.

Taking steps to improve overall mental and physical health can be helpful in order to minimise the impact of symptoms from both conditions: reducing and managing stress (for example through mindfulness, muscle relaxation, or counselling if helpful), maintaining good sleep hygiene and planning balanced meals.

If you experience any symptoms of migraine or ADHD, we recommend you discuss any concerns with your GP so they can help you work out your personal migraine triggers and the best treatment plan for you.


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