Co-occurring migraine and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be a frustrating combination, and the two conditions can sometimes feed into each other. In light of October being National ADHD Awareness Month, we thought we’d shed some light on the connection between ADHD and migraine and what you can do to get relief.

The connection between migraine and ADHD

At first glance, migraine and ADHD might seem completely unrelated. ADHD is a complex but common disorder that often presents with trouble focusing, impulsivity and problems staying organized. While the name includes the term “hyperactivity,” ADHD comes in many forms and doesn’t always involve hyperactive behavior. 

Migraine is also complex. This neurological condition typically causes severe, throbbing headaches on one side of your head. It often comes with other symptoms like sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and visual disturbances.

There may not be a clear link between migraine and ADHD, but we know they commonly occur with each other. Research shows comorbidity between ADHD and migraine for both children and adults. Women are especially susceptible — about a third of women with ADHD have migraine attacks, versus 22.5% of men.

Other research findings tell us that men with ADHD are more than twice as likely as men without ADHD to have migraine attacks, and the severity of children’s ADHD symptoms is directly proportional to the frequency of migraine attacks. We can’t say that ADHD causes migraine or vice versa, but they may share some underlying characteristics.

Why do ADHD and migraine co-occur?

We don’t know exactly why ADHD and migraine occur together, but researchers have some theories:

  • Hormones: Migraine is more common in women, so some think it may be linked to fluctuating hormones. Research also shows that hormones regulate how our brain cells communicate and affect ADHD symptoms.
  • Mood and anxiety disorders: Mood and anxiety disorders often go along with ADHD and migraine. They could be a connecting thread between the two conditions.
  • Distractibility, irritation and learning challenges: These symptoms of ADHD could appear more often due to migraine attacks, particularly for children with shorter attention spans.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors could also play a role, affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine, which plays a role in both ADHD and migraine.

Is migraine a symptom of ADHD?

Although people with ADHD can be more likely to experience migraine, migraine is not a symptom of ADHD. Mental health professionals diagnose ADHD with the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) from the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 has a list of symptoms and conditions that assess inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Migraine or headaches are not included in this list.

Still, some symptoms of ADHD can be exacerbated by migraine, such as problems with sustained or close attention and staying organized.

migraine and adhd

Does ADHD medication cause migraine?

Many people with ADHD take stimulant medication to reduce symptoms like mood, behavior and memory problems. They can cause headaches as a side effect, but these are not the same as migraine attacks. A headache from ADHD medication is usually milder and less complex than a migraine attack. Migraine headaches are more severe, localized to one side of your head and often come with additional symptoms, such as visual disturbances and nausea. 

Headaches from ADHD medication often subside shortly after starting the medication. The medication can also influence the likelihood of migraine attacks by affecting your behaviors. For example, ADHD medication can decrease appetite, so you might eat less, which could cause a migraine attack.

On the other hand, stimulants have some analgesic properties, meaning they can help relieve pain. Research suggests that stimulants could reduce the frequency or severity of attacks.

Handling migraine and ADHD

Treating migraine in people with ADHD is similar to treating it in people without ADHD. It’s a highly individualized process, so you’ll need to take some time to find what works for you and what doesn’t. One of the first strategies often recommended to people with migraine is keeping a migraine attack diary. If you’ve ever tracked your ADHD symptoms, the process is pretty comparable.

With a migraine journal or diary, you keep track of your migraine attacks, including when they occur, where the pain is, how long they last and how severe they are. You’ll also want to jot down other factors that might affect your migraine, such as exercise habits, sleep or diet. 

Migraine attacks can have a wide range of triggers, so write those down, too. Some migraine triggers include:

  • Certain medications
  • Water intake
  • Alcohol intake
  • Changes in the weather
  • Stress
  • Bright or strobing lights
  • Strong or specific odors
  • Caffeine
  • Menstrual cycles
  • Some foods, like chocolate, nuts and citrus fruits

You can make your own journal in a notebook, print templates online or download an app. CeCe, for example, is an app that helps you track your migraine triggers and symptoms. The intuitive interface helps you track what’s important and understand the results. By putting your migraine diary on your phone, you can also receive convenient notifications throughout the day. Since ADHD often comes with forgetfulness and an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, notifications and templates can be particularly helpful.

You won’t need to keep your migraine diary forever. Hopefully, just a few months of charting will give you enough information. Once you know what you’re working with, you can dive into the wide world of migraine remedies and see what helps. Some techniques for tackling migraine attacks include:

  • Avoiding triggers: Limiting your exposure to the triggers you found can help you avoid migraine attacks.
  • Taking supplements: As with many health conditions, the evidence on taking supplements for migraine can be mixed. Some have good scientific evidence, but others do not. Make sure you know what migraine supplements are backed by research. Always consult your doctor before taking them, especially if you take a prescription medication, like stimulants. Some supplements can interact with prescription medications.
  • Improving mindfulness: Activities like meditation and deep breathing can be used to manage migraine. This practice also has promising results for ADHD, so it can help with both conditions.
  • Changing your diet and exercise: Depending on the results of your migraine journal, you may find that changing your diet or exercise habits helps reduce the frequency or severity of attacks.
  • Using a nerve-stimulation device: Many people can relieve migraine symptoms by stimulating the trigeminal nerve. CEFALY is a clinically proven, drug-free device that attaches to your forehead and sends small electrical impulses to the nerve. This stimulation can offer relief from acute migraine attacks and reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks.
manage migraines

Manage migraine with CEFALY

Managing ADHD and migraine can be tricky. ADHD can make it hard to remember migraine remedies, like supplements or exercise routines. Plus, if you take ADHD medication, you may be hesitant to start taking another drug. CEFALY is a completely drug-free solution, backed by extensive clinical research and available without a prescription. You can use the unique technology of CEFALY to relieve and prevent migraine attacks with minimal side effects.

Paired with the CeCe migraine app, CEFALY can help you manage migraine attacks in an ADHD-friendly way. We’ll send you reminders, help you track your symptoms and help you understand these conditions. Celebrate National ADHD Awareness Month by starting your journey to migraine relief. See how CEFALY works or purchase the CEFALY device today!