Migraine disease is not a loner. It has lots of friends among other long-term health conditions that it likes to hang out with. People with migraine disease are more likely to be affected by anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, epilepsy, arthritis, stroke and even asthma, although the risk varies. And that’s not a comprehensive list.
Some of these are fellow neurological conditions, like epilepsy and stroke. Others can be related to brain chemistry, like anxiety, depression and irritable bowel syndrome. The gut contains 90% of the body’s serotonin, which is a hormone that acts on the brain and throughout the body, so this connection to the bowel might not be as strange as it appears. Many conditions that involve chronic pain, like irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis and fibromyalgia, may have similar impacts on the brain, causing pain receptors to become overly sensitive.
Some conditions have no obvious relation to the brain, like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease, but a common link might be inflammation. Understanding more about why these other health conditions are associated with migraine could help with developing treatments that target a shared cause.
In the Migraine in Aotearoa New Zealand Survey 2022, we asked respondents whether they had any other long-term health conditions. Most people had another condition, with only 22% reporting that they currently had none.
The most common conditions were mood disorders, with almost a third (32%) reporting anxiety and almost a quarter (24%) reporting depression. Around one in five reported low back pain (21%) and irritable bowel syndrome (18%). Asthma occurred in 16% of respondents, insomnia in 13% and high blood pressure in 11%. Less than 10% reported arthritis (8%) and fibromyalgia (6%). Heart disease and stroke were uncommon (<1%).