Managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has its own set of challenges. Symptoms of this complex brain disorder include trouble focusing, restlessness, and impulsiveness. Some people experience poor organizational skills, too.

While these are the most common ADHD symptoms, there’s also a link between ADHD and migraine attacks.

Here’s a look at why these conditions sometimes occur together, as well as tips on managing migraine attacks.

A migraine isn’t a typical everyday headache. It’s an intense, throbbing pain that can last for a period of time. Some people have migraine attacks that last for hours, whereas others have them for days.

These types of headaches can also come back, so you might have several migraine attacks within a week or month.

Along with throbbing, intense pain, migraine attacks can cause other symptoms too. Nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity can occur. In addition, you might have an aura, which is a type of visual disturbance.

Even though anyone can have migraine, research shows the condition is associated with ADHD. The connection is higher in women and increases as a person ages.

According to one 2011 study, about a third of women with ADHD also experience migraine attacks, compared with 22.5 percent of men.

The exact link between the two conditions isn’t yet fully understood. More research is needed to determine whether genetics, environment, or both also play a role.

Since women with ADHD are more likely to have migraine attacks, fluctuating hormones is one possible explanation.

Language matters

Most of the studies used in this article do not delineate between (and sometimes conflate) sex and gender, and can be assumed to have primarily cisgender participants.

While research on ADHD within the transgender community is new, recent surveys state that trans people are significantly more likely to report an ADHD diagnosis. A 2018 study in Australia reports that ADHD is four times more common among trans people than cisgender people.

In a 2021 review of the current studies on transgender and gender-diverse people with migraine symptoms, researchers found no conclusive data and call for more studies to be done. However, they explain that people in a “sexual minority” have compounding risk factors for migraine attacks, such as anxiety, depression, and hormone fluctuation.

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While an ADHD diagnosis increases the likelihood of experiencing migraine attacks, this type of headache is not a typical symptom of ADHD, according to diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

Typical symptoms include inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Some people with ADHD have mood disorders like anxiety or depression.

Interestingly, migraine attacks can sometimes co-occur with conditions like anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. This could possibly explain why some people with ADHD also have migraine attacks.

Stimulants are a common type of medication used to treat ADHD in children and adults. These drugs can help manage symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and a short attention span.

Stimulants work by increasing the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical that influences mood, memory, attention, and behavior. Although an effective treatment for ADHD, some people experience side effects like headaches after starting the medication.

Keep in mind, though, that these headaches are usually mild and not migraine attacks.

Migraine is a serious neurological disorder accompanied by one or more symptoms. Headaches that occur after starting a new treatment are not neurological and often improve as the body adjusts to the medication.

Sometimes, though, ADHD medication can be an indirect cause of migraine attacks. For example, if the medication suppresses your appetite (and you skip meals), a lack of calories could possibly bring on a migraine episode.

Does ADHD medication help with migraine episodes?

According to other research, ADHD medications might help improve migraine attacks. Some people experience migraine attacks from a drop in dopamine release. Since stimulants used to treat ADHD increase dopamine levels in the brain, these medications could possibly treat migraine attacks.

ADHD and migraine attacks don’t only affect adults. Children with ADHD can also have migraine attacks. These episodes can lead to behavioral problems, according to 2021 research.

Children who have migraine attacks can be easily distracted and show signs of increased irritability. Migraine attacks can also cause learning challenges for children. For example, they might not complete their assignments and frequently miss school days.

Therefore, it’s extremely important that children receive an early diagnosis and get help for their migraine symptoms.

Even though migraine attacks can co-occur with ADHD, the exact trigger can differ from person to person. So, you’ll need to understand the conditions that cause your migraine attacks, and then take preventive measures.

Keeping a migraine journal might help. This involves identifying patterns and narrowing down specific triggers. You’ll include information such as:

  • date of a migraine attack, including day of the week
  • severity
  • other symptoms
  • anything else that might be helpful (e.g., did you exercise that day? How much did you sleep? What did you eat? Did you take a new medication?)

Migraine triggers can include the following:

Once you know what triggers your migraine attacks, a doctor will be able to create the treatment plan that’s right for you. This may include:

ADHD and migraine are two separate conditions with their own challenges. Migraine can cause a throbbing, intense headache, whereas ADHD can cause symptoms like impulsiveness and difficulty with focus.

Even though migraine attacks aren’t a typical symptom of ADHD, they frequently occur together. The exact link isn’t yet fully understood, so you’ll need to work with a doctor to identify your unique triggers and best treatment.