The Link Between ADHD & Headaches
According to an intensive study by research professionals about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), there can be a considerable connection between migraine and ADHD. A report also showed that the risk of developing migraines was increased in people with ADHD compared to children and adolescents without ADHD 😞.
How about you? Do you experience intense headaches or chronic migraine, like I do?
Sometimes, when I become too overwhelmed with my ADHD symptoms, I'll have a headache for a few minutes. I might also have difficulty falling asleep 😪 at night because of my racing thoughts, which can lead to a headache in the morning. There are even instances when prescription pain relievers don't work against my intense headache anymore 💊, and I wouldn’t know what to do about it. Many other ADHD symptoms seem to complicate these recurring, throbbing headaches that we can experience.
But how else do migraine and ADHD connect with each other? What is with ADHD diagnosis that can make someone more likely to experience migraines or intense headaches? Let's dig deeper into Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and migraine.
Brief Migraine and Headaches Facts
Some people might be confused about the proper term for migraine & headaches. Generally, all migraines are headaches, but not all headaches are migraines.
Headaches, on the other hand, is a collective term for all types of pains and aches that one can feel in the head, face, and upper neck. They can sometimes be a symptom of other underlying health conditions, but in most cases, their cause is undetectable.
Anyone can experience headaches. However, according to the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience study, men with ADHD are more likely to experience headaches than other men with no ADHD. The same study also suggests that ADHD can be a risk factor in developing migraines later on in their lives.
Headaches happen when pain signals go off in our brains. The pain can be caused by different things, such as dehydration, stress, eye strain, and many others 😭. Usually, the pain will go away on its own or after taking over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers 💊. Headaches may also be initial symptoms of physical health concerns that can affect a person's quality of life. Some people with ADHD might experience headaches more often because of the different ADHD symptoms they encounter daily.
Do Dopamine Receptors Produce Headaches?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the chemical dopamine appear to be connected. As it is, low dopamine levels seem to be a significant characteristic of many people with ADHD.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps us with focus, motivation, and pleasure. It is also known to affect the headaches' pain pathway. According to the National Library of Medicine, research and clinically validated questionnaires showed that people who frequently experience migraines may have an issue in the dopamine receptors in their brains 🧠.
You see, reports suggest that the lower the dopamine levels are, the more frequent the migraines can be because the person can become more sensitive to pain.
But, perhaps there’s a two-way connection? Just as low dopamine levels can make a person more sensitive to pain, can migraines also lower a person’s dopamine level?
You see, headaches, specifically a migraine attack, is a common neurological condition that can, perhaps, affect the dopamine production of the brain. After all, some brain scans in a study show that participants had normal dopamine levels and they only dropped during their migraine attack 🤔.
Of course, further study is needed to back these claims up. It is not yet clear how lower dopamine levels can result in more migraines (or vice versa), but it can be a good lead for further studies.
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ADHD Symptoms That Can Cause Headaches
Headaches should not be taken lightly, especially when it can be an early onset symptom of much more serious health conditions.
However, when ADHD-diagnosed individuals experience migraine symptoms or simple headaches, please remember that plenty of ADHD symptoms can be responsible for them:
- Excessive physical movements brought by Hyperactivity
- Sensory Overload from overwhelming external stimuli 😵
- Fatigue and hunger due to unscheduled meal hours
- Lack of sleep 😴 due to the hyperactive brain and asynchronous sleep schedule hormones
- Comorbid conditions, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders (like bipolar disorder), or depression
These are just some of the possible reasons why Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can affect a person's experience of headaches or migraines.
Note that it is possible that ADHD symptoms mask the early signs and symptoms of migraine, making it harder to diagnose. It is also essential to be aware of the different comorbid conditions because they can also affect a person's health and further result in a potentially incapacitating illness if not treated immediately. 😔
Finally, please keep in mind that headaches can potentially cause ADHD symptoms to intensify. Headache frequency can cause even more difficulty concentrating on tasks. Migraine episodes can also cause sleep disorders and so on. It can be a never-ending cycle that can only be broken through proper medication and therapeutic management.
That's why it's important to talk to your mental health professional 👩⚕️ for the clinical assessment for both ADHD & migraines or headaches.
High-Level Stress Gives Headaches
Everyone gets stressed once in a while. But “once in a while” may be an understatement for people with ADHD.
We are often subjected to high-level stress because of our neurodivergent disorder, which can give us physical symptoms like headaches or migraines. When we experience stress, our cortisol levels shoot up. Cortisol is the stress hormone that helps us deal with difficult situations. But when it's constantly high, it can lead to serious health problems like anxiety, heart disease, and even depression.
Some people with ADHD are also more likely to experience chronic stress because of their impulsivity. We may not think before acting, which can sometimes put us in stressful situations. We may also have difficulty finishing tasks, which can lead to chronic stress because we feel like we're constantly falling behind. And if we have comorbid conditions, like mood and anxiety disorders or depression, the pressure can be even greater. This can also cause other physical health concerns, but headaches and migraines are some of the most common.
When we are too stressed because of our ADHD traits, we take an ADHD medication to help us manage them well 💊. But, with the intake of these ADHD medications, headaches can occur as a side effect. So to be sure, before taking any medications, always ask about the impact on you and on your body to avoid further complications.
Improving ADHD-Induced Headaches
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health, there's no direct evidence that ADHD and migraine cause each other to happen. However, studies and clinical trials suggest a connection between the two. And because of this, more research is being done to understand how ADHD can affect migraines or headaches. 👌
But as we feel the outcome of our brain's physical and biochemical connections as well as its dopamine production that can lead to headaches, we can intervene by taking a pain-relieving medication that temporarily blocks pain signals. These pain relievers can temporarily fix your headache problems.
But, if you're someone with ADHD, you know that it's not always that simple.
There are other ways to treat headaches and prevent migraine episodes from recurring. This list covers migraine prevention tips that you can try to reduce the number of migraines or headaches you experience:
- Maintain a regular night routine that gives you enough sleep.
- Have regular exercise to help you release stress. Headache frequency decreases when you are physically active, which can also help you sleep better at night.
- Eat a healthy diet and avoid trigger foods. Foods that can slow pain transmission can also help you reduce linked migraine episodes.
- Keep a migraine journal about your migraine attack schedule or frequency. Show your migraine journal to your doctor for additional reference for your struggles.
- Contact a licensed acupuncture practitioner and try some relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation 🧘. This can help you manage hyperactive ADHD and migraine.
- When you experience physical symptoms of migraine frequently, avoid taking OTC pain-relief medication without consulting your doctor first. It can trigger medication overuse headaches as a result.
- Talk to your doctor about other options. For instance, there is injectable 💉 migraine treatment available for treating chronic migraines that are not responding well to medications if the above tips are not doing well.
ADHD, migraines, and headaches can be a lot to deal with, especially if they're not well-managed. It can be challenging to focus on anything else when you're in pain. But, by understanding your migraines and headaches, you can find ways to prevent them or at least reduce their frequency. It is essential to coordinate with your mental health professional about your concerns, especially when you experience physical symptoms, so that they can adequately address your ADHD and migraine at the same time. 😘
ADHD and Headaches: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Is it true that headaches and migraines occur more frequently when you have ADHD?
There are several studies suggesting that people with ADHD, particularly men, are more prone to experience headaches and migraines than their non-ADHD counterparts.
What ADHD symptoms can result in headaches or migraines?
Various ADHD symptoms can lead to headaches and migraines. For instance, being impulsive can lead to wrong decisions that can induce stress headaches. Being hyperactive at night can cause sleep deprivation, which in turn can cause headaches. Some studies also point out that low dopamine levels, which is a common occurrence in people with ADHD, can lead to migraine attacks.
How can you address migraines when you have ADHD?
If your ADHD symptoms cause your headaches, it’s best to manage them with the help of a mental health professional or ADHD coach.