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Migraines may Be a Symptom of Other Problems for Iraq Soldiers

Soldiers returning from Iraq who have migraine headaches are more than twice as likely to also have symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression or anxiety// than soldiers who do not have migraines, according to research.

The study involved 3,621 United States Army soldiers who were given a health screening questionnaire within 90 days after returning from one year of combat duty in Iraq. A total of 2,167 of the soldiers, or 60 percent, completed the questionnaire. Of those, 19 percent screened positive for migraine headaches, 32 percent screened positive for depression, 22 percent screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 13 percent screened positive for anxiety.

The researchers found that 50 percent of those with migraine also had depression, compared to 27 percent of those without migraine. A total of 39 percent of those with migraine also had post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 18 percent of those without migraine. And 22 percent of those with migraine also had anxiety, compared to 10 percent of those without migraine.

“Previous studies in non-military populations had revealed a higher prevalence of certain psychiatric conditions, such as depression and anxiety, among people with migraine,” said study author Maj. Jay C. Erickson, MD, PhD, of Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, WA. “We hypothesized that there would be a similar relationship between migraine and psychiatric conditions in soldiers. The precise reasons for such an association are not fully understood, but may be related to similarities in the mechanisms underlying migraines and some psychiatric disorders.”

The study also found that those with migraine and depression also had more frequent headaches than those who had migraine with no depression – an average of 3.5 headache days per month for those with depression compared to 2.5 days per month for those with no depression. The findings were similar for those with migraine and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“These findings should alert health care providers, especially those affiliated with the military or veteran health care systems, about the frequent association of migraine headaches and psychiatric conditions in soldiers returning from deployment,” Erickson said. “We recommend that health care providers who evaluate combat veterans for headaches perform mental health screening in order to ensure that psychiatric disorders are identified and properly treated. All soldiers returning from deployment presently undergo mental health screening.”

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of over 20,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.


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