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depression cause headaches

Can Depression Cause Headaches? Unveiling the Hidden Connection

Writen By: Faiza Saifur
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: August 24, 2023

Headaches—those sharp, throbbing pains that can make your day uneasy—are something most of us have experienced. As many as 90% of grown-ups have dealt with tension headaches at some point in their lives.

But when headaches team up with depression, a question arises: can depression cause headaches? Yes, it’s more than just a common duo. There’s a likelihood of dealing with a more problematic term called depression headaches.

At times, depression steps onto the stage and brings up headaches as its partner. Not just headaches, but other physical discomforts as well. Investigations have revealed robust connections between tension headaches and mental health struggles like depression and anxiety.

A study brought out by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) disclosed that around 11% of people with mental health disorders had experienced migraine attacks as a precursor. This includes disorders like major depression, bipolar disorder, and various anxiety disorders.

According to the ADAA, up to 40% of people who have migraines might also find themselves grappling with depression. For some other types of headaches, they might be secondary—nearly a symptom of underlying depression.

Understanding Can depression cause headaches? and recognizing their symptoms can open the door to better treatment and preventive strategies. The more you know, the better equipped you are to have a meaningful conversation with your doctor about your unique situation.

Types of Headaches and their causes

Headaches can be categorized into several different types, each with its own set of causes and characteristics. Here are some common types of headaches and their potential causes:

Tension Headaches:

  • Characteristics: Dull, aching pain on both sides of the head, often described as a tight band around the head.
  • Cause: Tension headaches are often caused by muscle tension and stress, hence the name. They can result from poor posture, anxiety, emotional stress, or holding tension in the neck and shoulder muscles.

Migraine Headaches:

  • Characteristics: Intense, throbbing pain, often on one side of the head, along with other symptoms like sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and sometimes visual disturbances.
  • Cause: The exact cause of migraines isn’t fully understood, but they are believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. Triggers can include hormonal changes, certain foods, lack of sleep, bright lights, strong smells, and stress.

Cluster Headaches:


  • Characteristics: Intense, severe pain usually centered around one eye, often occurring in clusters over a period of weeks or months. They are typically very sharp and can be accompanied by eye redness, tearing, and nasal congestion.
  • Cause: The cause of cluster headaches is still not entirely clear, but they are believed to involve abnormalities in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates body rhythms.

Sinus Headaches:

  • Characteristics: Pain in the front of the head and face, often worsened by bending forward. It can be accompanied by congestion and a feeling of pressure in the sinuses.
  • Cause: Sinus headaches are often associated with sinus infections (sinusitis) or inflammation of the sinus passages. However, research suggests that true “sinus headaches” are less common than previously thought, and many “sinus headaches” are actually migraines or tension headaches.

Rebound Headaches (Medication Overuse Headaches):

  • Characteristics: Headaches that become more frequent and severe as a result of medication overuse, often requiring a withdrawal from the overused medication to alleviate the cycle.
  • Cause: Rebound headaches can occur as a result of overusing pain medications (such as over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications) to treat frequent headaches.

Hormone-Related Headaches:

  • Characteristics: These headaches often occur in relation to hormonal changes and can vary in intensity and duration.
  • Cause: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those that occur during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, can trigger headaches in some individuals.

Understanding Depression and Its Impact on the Body.

Depression and Its Common symptoms

Depression, often referred to as a mental health condition, goes beyond just feeling down sometimes. It’s a complex state that can bring about a range of symptoms. 

The symptoms of a major depressive episode, as listed in the DSM-5, include:

  • Persistent sadness.
  • loss of enjoyment or interest in nearly all activities.
  • Severe appetite changes, weight gain or reduction, or both.
  • Constant insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive drowsiness).
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation (restlessness or slowness of movement).
  • drowsiness or a lack of vitality.
  • feelings of overwhelming guilt or worthlessness.
  • Having trouble focusing or making judgments.
  • Suicidal or death-related ideas that come up often.

Impact of Depression on Bodily Functions.

Depression is a complex mental health condition that can have a significant impact on various bodily functions. While it primarily affects mood and emotions, its effects can extend to physical health and overall well-being. Here are some of the ways in which depression can impact bodily functions:

  • Sleep Disturbances: Depression often disrupts normal sleep patterns. Some individuals with depression may experience insomnia, struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep. Others might experience hypersomnia, where they sleep excessively. Sleep disturbances can further exacerbate mood symptoms and contribute to fatigue and low energy levels.
  • Appetite and Weight Changes: Depression can lead to changes in appetite. Some people may experience a decrease in appetite, resulting in weight loss, while others might have an increase in appetite and gain weight. These changes can impact overall physical health and contribute to body image concerns.
  • Fatigue and Low Energy: People with depression often report feeling physically drained and lacking energy, even for simple tasks. This can result in reduced motivation and decreased participation in daily activities.
  • Pain and Physical Symptoms: Depression can be associated with physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, and other bodily pains. These symptoms are often referred to as “somatic symptoms” and can be interconnected with mood disturbances.
  • Gastrointestinal Distress: Depression has been linked to gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders. Stress and changes in neurotransmitter activity might contribute to these issues.
  • Cardiovascular Effects: Some research suggests a link between depression and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Chronic stress and changes in autonomic nervous system activity could contribute to these effects.
  • Immune System Dysregulation: Depression might affect the immune system, potentially leading to increased vulnerability to infections and other illnesses. Chronic inflammation, often seen in depression, could play a role in this immune system dysregulation.
  • Cognitive Functioning: Depression can impact cognitive functions such as memory, concentration, and decision-making. People with depression might find it harder to focus on tasks and make decisions, which can affect their ability to perform daily activities.
  • Sexual Functioning: Depression can lead to changes in sexual desire and functioning. It might reduce libido, create difficulties with arousal, and impact overall sexual satisfaction.
  • Hormonal Imbalances: Depression can affect the levels of certain hormones, such as cortisol and serotonin, which can influence mood, stress response, and various bodily functions.

Unveiling the Link: Can Depression Cause Headaches?

While the exact cause-and-effect relationship isn’t entirely clear about whether depression cause headaches, research suggests that depression could indeed contribute to the emergence of headaches. The emotional and physiological changes that accompany depression might trigger or exacerbate headache episodes.

Factors such as increased muscle tension, altered pain perception, and changes in neurotransmitter activity might play a role in depression headaches.

  • Muscle Tension: When we feel sad or stressed, our body can get tense, like when you’re clenching your fists. This tension can cause headaches because the muscles in your head and neck become tight.
  • Feeling Pain More: If you’re feeling down, your body might become more sensitive to pain. This can make headaches hurt more than usual.
  • Brain Chemicals: Our brain uses special chemicals to help control our feelings and how we experience pain. When these chemicals change because of depression, it can make headaches more likely.
  • Stress and Triggers: When we’re sad or worried, our body reacts with stress. This stress can sometimes cause headaches. Also, things like too much noise or bright lights, which can be bothersome when we’re feeling low, might trigger headaches.
  • Shared Body Pathways: There are pathways in our body that connect our mood and how we feel pain. Sometimes, these pathways can make both depression and headaches happen together.
  • Medicine Side Effects: Some medicines we take to feel better from depression can have side effects like giving us headaches.
  • Having Both: People who have depression might also have other health issues that cause headaches. It’s like having two problems at the same time.

Common Physiological Pathways that Depression and Headaches Share.

Research has unveiled intriguing connections between the physiological pathways involved in both depression and headaches. Shared neurochemical imbalances, such as alterations in serotonin levels, play a pivotal role in both conditions. 

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, impacts mood regulation as well as pain perception. The disruption of this delicate balance can contribute to the onset and persistence of both depressive symptoms and headaches.

Furthermore, the detailed network of stress responses intertwines with both depression and headaches. 

Chronic stress, a common feature of depression, can trigger chemical changes that lead to headaches. Understanding these shared pathways provides a nuanced perspective on the profound interplay between mental and physical well-being.

Triggers that worsen Both Conditions.

Certain triggers can serve as common threads, intensifying both depression and headaches. Stress, a universal trigger, can be a catalyst for both conditions. Sleep disturbances, another shared trigger, can set off a vicious cycle – poor sleep exacerbates depression, which in turn might worsen headaches.

Moreover, lifestyle factors like dietary choices and physical activity can influence both conditions. Skipping meals or consuming certain foods might contribute to headache episodes, while an inactive lifestyle can impact mood and headache susceptibility. Recognizing these triggers not only allows for better management of depression and headaches but also underscores the importance of holistic approaches that address these interconnected aspects of health.

Conclusions from our case studies.

To make this topic even clearer, we extracted some conclusions from our case studies about “can depression cause head aces?”.

We spoke to Jane, who noticed that when stress levels soared at her job, so did her painful migraines. It’s like her mind and body were trying to tell her something.

Sara, a young student, shared that during periods of overwhelming sadness, she often experienced intense headaches that seemed to mirror her emotions. It was like her mind and body were sending a joint message, urging her to pay attention to her well-being.

Emma, a stay-at-home mom, discovered that practicing mindfulness not only helped ease her depressive symptoms but also reduced the frequency of her tension headaches. She found that tuning into her emotions and body sensations played a crucial role in her overall sense of relief.

Mark’s story is similar. When he felt depressed, he’d often get these tension headaches that just wouldn’t quit. But as he worked on improving his mood, he noticed his headaches easing up too. It’s as if his emotions and physical sensations were tied together.

These everyday stories show that the connection isn’t just scientific—it’s something people live through. By understanding these experiences, we can find better ways to manage both depression and headaches, making life a bit easier for all of us.

Treatment of depression headaches 

Treating depression headaches involves a multifaceted approach tailored to the underlying causes. 

Your treatment plan might encompass both headache and depression symptoms. Here are some options to discuss with your doctor:

Depression headache medications:

Specific prescription medications can address depression, anxiety, and migraines. These may include tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and anxiolytics.

Botox injections:

If prescription drugs aren’t suitable, Botox injections could be considered. Treating migraines first might also alleviate depression symptoms.

Tension headache treatment:

Similar prescription medications can help manage secondary headaches and other depression-related symptoms. This could involve tricyclic antidepressants and biofeedback techniques.

SSRIs for depression:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac are common for treating depression. This approach might be suitable if your headaches are linked to depression. SSRIs don’t directly address headaches.

OTC pain relievers:

Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can provide temporary relief for severe headaches. However, they don’t address the root causes of depression-related headaches. Also, consider potential interactions with antidepressants.


Talk therapy with a mental health professional helps modify thoughts and behaviors. It’s effective for depression and anxiety. If you have chronic headaches alongside major depression, psychotherapy can provide long-term relief by addressing the underlying symptoms.

How to cope with Depression Headaches?

As we covered the question, “ can depression cause headaches?” now lets move towards Strategies for relieving depression headaches involve a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and mental aspects of these conditions. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Engage in stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. Managing stress can help alleviate both headache frequency and depressive symptoms.
  • Regular physical activity has been shown to improve mood and reduce the intensity of headaches. Aim for regular exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk.
  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule and create a relaxing bedtime routine. Adequate sleep can positively impact both mood and headache occurrences.
  • Maintain a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Certain foods may trigger headaches, so be mindful of your choices.
  • Dehydration can contribute to headaches. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
  • Engage in mindfulness practices, such as yoga or deep breathing exercises. These techniques can help manage both physical pain and emotional distress.
  • Creating a daily routine can provide structure and stability, which are beneficial for managing both conditions.
  • Stay connected with friends, family, and support groups. Social interactions can positively impact moods and provide a sense of belonging.
  • Identify and minimize triggers that worsen both headaches and depressive episodes. This might include avoiding certain foods, managing work stress, or practicing time management.

When to Seek Medical attention

While most headaches are common and benign, certain signs could indicate a more serious underlying problem. Seek medical attention if you experience:

  • If your headache is sudden and extremely severe, it could be a sign of a serious condition such as a hemorrhage or stroke.
  • Headaches accompanied by neurological symptoms like confusion, weakness, numbness, or difficulty speaking require immediate medical attention.
  • If you experience a headache unlike any you’ve had before, especially if you’re over 50, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional.

Remember, your health is invaluable, and timely medical attention ensures that any potential underlying issues are addressed promptly. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about your symptoms or need guidance on managing your well-being effectively.


What are the emotional triggers of headaches?

Recognizing emotional triggers for headaches is important because they can initiate or worsen headache episodes. Stress is a significant trigger, as high-stress levels can lead to muscle tension and tension-type headaches. 

Anxiety and emotional tension can similarly contribute to tension headaches, while feelings of sadness, grief, or depression might impact pain perception and lead to headaches. Intense emotions like anger, frustration, excitement, or even crying can play a role in triggering headaches. 

Additionally, sensory overload from bright lights, loud noises, and strong odors during emotionally charged moments can spark migraines. Recognizing these emotional triggers and their interactions with other factors can aid in effectively managing headaches and improving overall well-being.

What is the connection between mood and pain?

The connection between mood and pain is close. Our feelings, like stress or happiness, can affect how we experience pain. When we’re stressed or down, we might feel pain more intensely. Stress and anxiety can also cause muscle tension that leads to headaches or worsens pain. 

Conversely, positive emotions can help relieve pain by releasing natural painkillers in our bodies. It’s a two-way street: pain can affect our mood, and our mood can affect how we feel pain. Taking care of our emotions is important for managing pain and feeling better overall.

What are the Neurobiological links between depression and headaches?

The neurobiological links between depression and headaches involve how our brain works. Both depression and headaches can happen when things in our brain, like chemicals that control mood and pain, get a bit mixed up. When we’re stressed or feeling down, our brain might start experiencing both headaches and sadness. 

The areas in our brains that deal with pain and emotions also talk to each other, so changes in one can affect the other. This shows that what happens in our brain can cause both depression and headaches. Knowing this helps us find ways to treat both at the same time.

Wrapping up!

So, from our in-depth research, we answered “Can depression cause headaches?”. we found out that depression and headaches are more connected than we might think. Different types of headaches, like migraines and tension headaches, can be linked to our mental well-being. Stress and shared pathways, as we explained above, can play a big role in this connection.

It’s really important to recognize the connection between depression and the headaches we get. By understanding this link, we can find better ways to take care of ourselves. 

Whether it’s talking to a doctor, making lifestyle changes, or just being kind to ourselves, recognizing this connection helps us manage both our mood and our headaches. 

So, let’s remember that taking care of ourselves is the key to feeling better overall.

Additional resources.

National Institute of Mental Health. 



American Migraine Foundation. 

Types of headaches.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

Depression and chronic pain.](