Adderall and Migraine Headaches: What’s the Connection?
Adderall can be an important part of ADHD management, but it’s not without its side effects. Adderall can cause headaches, but there’s limited evidence it causes or treats migraine.
Adderall is in a class of medications called central nervous system stimulants. People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often take Adderall to help improve symptoms.
And while this drug can be an effective ADHD treatment, it does come with potential side effects — like headaches.
Migraine is a neurological condition known for its severe headaches. But migraine is more than that, with other symptoms like:
- debilitating pain
- nausea and vomiting
- auras (which come with their own symptoms like blurry vision)
The relationship between Adderall and migraine is currently quite complicated. It’s not clear if migraine attacks are a side effect of Adderall, although people who live with ADHD may be more likely to also have migraine.
Some people report, based on limited evidence, that Adderall may not necessarily cause migraine headaches but actually help treat them.
Can Adderall cause migraine headaches?
Headaches are one possible side effect of taking Adderall. But even if the headache is severe, it may not be a migraine headache.
According to the advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), some people have headaches when they start ADHD medication. These typically stop once your body is used to the treatment.
CHADD also notes that there’s an apparent connection between ADHD and migraine.
People with ADHD often have migraine, possibly at a higher rate than people without ADHD. Therefore, someone who is taking Adderall for ADHD may have migraine headaches — but Adderall may not be the cause.
Headache and Adderall side effects
The generic name for Adderall is dextroamphetamine/amphetamine. It’s a central nervous system stimulant commonly prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy.
Adderall has a number of common side effects, such as:
- high blood pressure
- weight loss
- dry mouth
- decreased appetite
- abdominal pain
- changes in mood
Headaches are one of the more common side effects of Adderall.
Like other medications, Adderall has a few less common but serious possible side effects, including:
- heart attack
- worsening psychiatric symptoms
These serious side effects are rare, but your doctor may discuss them with you if you are prescribed Adderall.
Adderall XR also comes with a boxed warning that it has a high potential for misuse and dependence.
Migraine symptoms versus other headaches
There are a few key differences between a migraine headache and other types of headaches.
A migraine attack often involves a moderate to severe headache. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a bad headache and migraine.
Migraine symptoms can last from several hours to a few days.
There are symptoms that are unique to migraine, though. These include:
- intense pain on only one side of the head
- throbbing pain that gets worse with movement
- light and sound sensitivity
Auras and migraine
Some people have migraine with aura. Auras have their own set of visual, sensory, and speech or language symptoms.
Aura symptoms usually occur before and alongside migraine symptoms. Some characteristics of an aura include:
- seeing flashing lights and zig-zag patterns
- experiencing numbness or tingling in one hand that moves up to the arm
Adderall for migraine: Can it help?
There is some evidence that Adderall may reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, although the data is far from conclusive and very limited.
One small 2004 trial studyTrusted Source examined whether dextroamphetamine — a key ingredient in Adderall — might help with chronic tension-type and migraine headaches. The data suggests that dextroamphetamine may be effective for preventing migraine as well as tension headaches, though more research is needed.
Stimulants and pain management
Stimulants and amphetamines are sometimes part of pain treatment.
For example, cancer patients are sometimes prescribed stimulants to increase the effectiveness of opioids and to reduce the drowsiness opioids may cause. Stimulants may therefore have some pain-relieving properties that also work on migraine.
Migraine is typically treated with pain-reducing medication. Physicians may recommend starting with an over-the-counter medication, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
If you think Adderall may be causing your migraine headaches, consider talking with your doctor. They may be able to work with you to find the right dose of your medication. They may also provide supplementary treatment or recommend an Adderall alternative.
The first-line prescription treatment for migraine is a class of drugs called triptans. They prevent the dilation of arteries in the head that happen during migraine. Triptans can also block pain signals to the brain.
Other medications to help treat migraine include:
- analgesics (acetaminophen): to help with pain management and inflammation
- antiemetics: to prevent nausea and vomiting
- dihydroergotamine: to narrow blood vessels
- NSAIDs (aspirin, diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, ketorolac): nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Alternative treatments for migraine might include:
- biofeedback, which monitors your body’s response to stress
- vagus nerve stimulators
Adderall can be an effective treatment for ADHD and narcolepsy. For people living with these conditions, Adderall can improve their quality of life.
While headaches are a common side effect of Adderall, it’s not clear if Adderall causes migraine episodes. People who live with ADHD may also have migraine, whether or not they’re taking Adderall.
Treatment for migraine often involves over-the-counter and prescription pain medication. There is currently very limited evidence that Adderall may help treat migraine.
Pain management is an often complex process. A doctor can help you find the right treatment for severe migraine symptoms.
You may also find support and community with online groups dedicated to people living with migraine, like:
- Bezzy Migraine
- Miles for Migraine
- National Chronic Pain Support Groups
Speaking with a therapist about ADHD and migraine pain can also help you find behavioral strategies to manage daily living. You can get started finding a therapist by visiting PsychCentral’s resource guide for seeking mental health support today.