Headaches and Migraines

Many people with FM say they also suffer from frequent headaches and/or migraines. It’s important to note that headaches and migraines are two very different things. A migraine is not just a really bad headache. It is a genetic neurological disease that is characterized by flare-ups, which are called migraine attacks. While head pain is common with migraines, it is possible to have a migraine attack without having a headache.

Migraines

A migraine headache has to be one of the worst forms of headache that any individual can suffer from. It is difficult to say what causes migraines but scientists believe they are associated with the release of chemicals dopamine and serotonin and also blood vessels in the body expanding to larger than normal proportions.

What are the Symptoms of Migraine Headaches?

Again these symptoms vary from individual to individual but may include some or all of the following:

  • Nausea
  • Blurred or impaired vision
  • Visualising lights in the Eyes
  • Impaired Vision in One Eye
  • Loss of Balance
  • Light Sensitivity

For some sufferers of migraine they may have an attack once every few months or for more chronic sufferers they may have an attack once or twice a week, depending on the severity of the condition and the nature of such things as diet.

Indeed in some sufferers the pain may be so severe that after the headache has died away they are left with a less painful headache and loss of appetite and disorientation.

Factors which may lead to Migraines

There are certain triggers that may bring about a migraine headache; some of them are as follows:

  • Diet
  • Working with Bright Lights
  • Stress
  • Contraceptives
  • Nicotine

Foods such as cheese, chocolate, nuts (or products containing nuts), alcohol and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) can also be triggers for migraines but they are commonly brought about by high levels of emotional and physical stress, something very common indeed with FM sufferers.

Treatment for Migraines

Most migraine sufferers are able to treat the problem themselves at home using over the counter medicines whilst others favour resting in a darkened room for a time until the headaches subside. Applying a cold towel or flannel to the temples is another way in which migraines can be treated as well as using anti-inflammatory medications.

Most anti-inflammatory medicines however will be prescribed by your doctor and if you suffer from migraines with any great frequency than you should strongly consider consulting with them.

Your doctor may suggest that you try a course of such medicines for a short time; the downside to using these medications however is that they become less effective with continuous use and in some cases – especially those of misuse – these medications can causes problems with liver function and stomach ulcers.

Your doctor will, of course, require an up to date medical history before prescribing any medication and will also require a detailed consultation with you.

Like FM, migraine disease seems to be a central nervous system problem that results in hypersensitivity to various triggers. There are many theories as to exactly what happens to bring on a migraine attack, but the most prevalent theory is that people with migraines have overly excitable neurons in their brains. When they encounter a trigger, those neurons fire in a wave across the brain, starting a cascade of events involving several parts of the brain.

Headaches

There are three different types of general headaches that are linked to FM: Tension Headaches, Migraines and Combination headaches.

FM tension headaches are the most common. They are caused by muscle spasms or contraction in the head, neck, jaw, shoulders and upper back. The muscle spasm typically originates at the base of the neck and works its way upwards all the way to the temples. These headaches usually occur on both sides of the head and have a pressing or tightening quality to them. FM patients describe these headaches as an extreme tightness encompassing the head that can cause pain upon movement or restrict head movement. Some patients describe them as feeling like they have a tight band around their head. These headaches typically last a couple of hours and can range from moderate to severe.  Since pain in general tends to cause the body to become tense, it’s not surprising that people with FM might develop tension-type headaches.

FM Migraine Headaches, also known as vascular headaches, are caused by constrictions of the blood vessels. Fatigue, stress and illness can all cause the blood vessels in the head and neck to dilate and constrict, causing severe pain, dizziness, eye pain and nausea. Migraine headaches also can move around your head at times. They can feel like incredibly painful pressure is building inside the skull in specific location points for no apparent reason.

Combination Headaches, which are a combination of tension headaches and migraine headaches, are also commonly seen in FM sufferers.

Fibromyalgia headaches are caused by several different factors:

  • Sleep Disorders: People who suffer from migraines often show significantly disturbed sleep patterns. FM also often causes sleep related disorders including sleep apnea. This could be one of the reasons who so many FM patients suffer from morning headaches. Moreover, sleep disorders also tend to increase the frequency and the severity of headaches.
  • Low Serotonin Levels: Recent studies that have been done show that migraine headaches and FM may be caused by the same factors. This implies that migraines and FM are in fact concurrent illnesses and it contradicts the previously held theory that migraines are actually one of the symptoms of the syndrome. People who suffer from migraine headaches have reduced levels of serotonin in the brain. This low-level of serotonin impedes the ability to communicate pain signals effectively, resulting in increased and even severe pain.
  • TMJ or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder: A large number of people with FM also suffer from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or TMJ. This is a disorder that causes bruxism or grinding of the teeth as well as joint and muscle pain in the face, neck and jaw, all of which can also contribute to headaches.
  • Low Magnesium Levels: People who suffer from migraines showed low levels of magnesium.
  • Stress:  Stress is considered to be a primary causal factor in FM and a key component to what causes headaches. Stress can lead to vascular contraction and muscle tightness contributing to both Migraine and Tension headaches.

While there is no conclusive proof regarding FM specific aggravating factors, there are several potential causal relationships. Fatigue, stress, anxiety and sleeping problems are thought to increase the frequency and severity of headaches.  Muscle spasms, myofascial pain and tender points in the neck, which are common symptoms of FM, are also thought to trigger severe headaches.

Rebound Headaches

One type of headache that is important to mention, especially for FM patients, is the rebound or medication-overuse headache. It is caused by the very medication being taken to relieve the pain. Unfortunately, people who are susceptible to rebound headaches find themselves in a catch-22 situation. In these cases, when patients take medication to relieve the headache or migraine pain more than two or three times a week, their bodies get used to having the medication and actually create a headache in order to get more of the medication. The only way to break this cycle is to stop taking the medication that caused it. This can be a particularly difficult problem for people with FM since often the medications being taken to relieve FM pain can cause rebound headaches.

See also: Abracadabra! And the Pain has disappeared!; The Accidental Addict

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