People with migraine are often 3 to 4 times more likely to live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you live with PTSD and headache pain, you may be wondering if PTSD headaches are common. At first glance, it might seem like PTSD and migraine don’t have much in common.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder triggered by an external traumatic event, and migraine is a neurological disorder marked by severe headaches.

But a growing body of research suggests the two conditions often occur together and may share a biological link.

PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event.

Symptoms may include:

  • anxiety
  • flashbacks
  • hyper-vigilance
  • avoidance of reminders of the event

The most common cause of PTSD is trauma, including physical and sexual abuse. About 26% to 52% of women who’ve experienced childhood abuse and interpersonal violence have PTSD.

People who have experienced life threatening situations, such as military combat, typically have the highest likelihood of developing PTSD.

It can impact your relationships, ability to work, and daily life. Someone with PTSD may seem distant or unavailable to friends and family and may be more vulnerable to substance use disorder (SUD).

Research from 2014 indicates that PTSD commonly occurs with tension headaches and migraine.

According to a 2011 review of studies, about 22% to 30% of people with headaches meet the criteria for PTSD. In a study involving veterans, nearly 50% of those with migraine met the criteria for PTSD.

One 2011 population survey of more than 5,600 participants suggests people with episodic migraine had a greater chance of developing PTSD than those without a headache disorder. People who have PTSD may also have an increased risk for developing migraine, also.

However, the exact mechanism connecting PTSD to migraine is unknown.

But while findings don’t necessarily show a cause-and-effect link, they do suggest that people with migraine may have a greater chance of developing PTSD when exposed to traumatic events.

The same review cited above explains that the PTSD-migraine link may involve dysfunction of:

  • the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers your body’s fight or flight response
  • the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is involved in the body’s reaction to stress
  • serotonin and adrenaline levels

There’s no cure for migraine, but symptoms can be managed with preventive and acute treatments.

Preventive medications, such as beta-blockers, can help prevent a migraine attack before it starts. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription drugs can help ease migraine pain after it begins.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are first-line treatments for mild to moderate migraines, while doctors typically prescribe triptans for moderate to severe migraine episodes. Additionally, research into new treatments is ongoing.

Lifestyle changes may also make it easier to live with migraine. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, not skipping meals, and avoiding triggers, such as alcohol or specific foods, may help lower the chances of having a migraine episode.

The following non-pharmaceutical interventions may be helpful for migraine:

  • Staying hydrated. Dehydration is a common trigger of migraine attacks. One 2020 study involving 256 participants found that migraine frequency, pain, and duration were significantly lower in people who drank more water.
  • Acupressure. Some people find that applying pressure to specific parts of the body helps alleviate migraine pain and tension.
  • Exercise. A 2011 study involving people with migraine suggests that engaging in regular activity may help prevent migraine, particularly among people who don’t respond to or don’t want to take daily medication.

You may find it helpful to keep a migraine diary, like the Migraine Buddy app, to help identify potential migraine triggers.

PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event and characterized by anxiety, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and avoidance. Migraine is a chronic neurological disorder marked by episodes of debilitating, painful headaches and other symptoms.

PTSD and migraine often occur together. Research suggests there may be a biological reason for this. People with one disorder may be more likely to develop the other disorder.

It’s possible to manage both conditions with various treatment options, including medication and lifestyle changes. If you think you have PTSD and migraine, it may be a good idea to reach out to a healthcare professional to get an accurate diagnosis and figure out the right treatment for you.

If you’re living with PTSD and are looking for support, consider checking out the following resources: