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Headaches, Migraines, and Panic Disorder

The Link Between Headaches and Panic Disorder

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Updated March 29, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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People with panic disorder often experience frequent headaches.

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Headaches are often described as pain or discomfort in the head, face, and neck. The pain caused by headaches often varies for different people. Some people report feeling severe discomfort in the lower neck, others may complain about pain in the eyes, and some may feel the headache all throughout their head. Regardless of how the pain is experienced, frequent headaches can really interfere with your life.

Depending on symptoms and severity, most headaches can be categorized into two main types: tension headaches or migraines. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Tension headaches involve muscle tightening of the head, neck, and shoulders. The strain put on these muscles then leads to pain that is felt throughout the head.

Migraines, on the other hand, are defined as a much more severe headache pain. Migraines often involve intense discomfort on one side of the head. A person who is experiencing a migraine will typically feel pressure behind one or both eyes, become extremely sensitive to smells, noises, and light, and may even experience nausea and vomiting.

Migraines may occur with an aura, which are symptoms or signs that are indicative of an impending migraine. For example, a person may have blurred vision, eyestrain, or visual disturbances shortly before a migraine headache occurs.

Headaches and Panic Disorder

Most people experience headaches from time to time. However, research has shown that people diagnosed with panic disorder and other anxiety disorders are more likely to experience frequent headaches than the general population. Many people with panic disorder will experience a headache right after having a panic attack.

Those with panic disorder have been found to suffer from more severe headaches and migraines. Research has also indicated that there are certain risk factors that influence the occurrence of panic disorder and headaches. For instance, the incidences of headaches and migraines have been found to be even higher among female panic disorder suffers. Those who have a co-occurring diagnosis of agoraphobia and/or depression also experience more frequent headaches and migraines.

What You Can Do

If you are experiencing a lot of headaches or migraines in addition to your panic disorder symptoms, discuss these issues with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to rule out any potential serious medical conditions that may be contributing to your headaches. Treatment options for panic disorder and the co-occurring headaches may also be available. For example, some medications that are prescribed for panic disorder have been shown to effectively treat co-occurring headaches.

On the other hand, your medication may actually be contributing to your headaches. Your doctor may need to determine if your medication for panic disorder is actually causing your headaches. Additionally, your doctor will create a treatment plan to help you manage both your headaches and panic disorder symptoms. Headaches and migraines are a common issue among panic disorder suffers. Fortunately, your doctor will be able to help you treat and mange both conditions.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.

Berk, M., Fritz, V. U., & Schofield, G. “Patterns of Headache in Panic Disorder: A Survey of Members of the South African Panic Disorder Support Group” 2004 South African Psychiatry Review ,7, 28-30.

Senaratne, R., Van Ameringen, M., Mancini, C., Patterson, B., Bennett, M. “The Prevalence of Migraine Headaches in an Anxiety Disorders Clinic Sample” 2010 CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 16(2), 76-82.

Yamada, K., Moriwaki, K., Oiso, H., & Ishigooka, J. “High prevalence of comorbidity of migraine in outpatients with panic disorder and effectiveness of psychopharmacotherapy for both disorders: A retrospective open label study” 2011 Psychiatry Research, 185(1-2), 145-148.

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