You are a person with multiple sclerosis and suffer from migraine headaches. Are the two interrelated or independent? For the majority of my life I have suffered from migraine headaches. Migraines are a throbbing sensation accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound as well as vision distortion. For me they are usually preceded by an aura or warning such as tingling in my hand or arm in addition to sparklers or blind spots in my vision. Symptoms usually dissipate within 20-30 minutes of taking my medication.
When I experienced my first MS attack, I thought I was stuck in a migraine aura. My hand and arm were tingling and I had lost partial vision in my left eye. The only difference with this and a migraine was that my migraine medication did not eliminate the symptoms no matter how many doses I took. By the time a 24-hour period of time had gone by, my entire right side was numb and I could not see out of my left eye. It was as if I had experienced a stroke.
It is thought that migraines are a neurovascular disorder caused by environmental and genetic factors. In my case, they are hereditary as well as tend to change in correlation with my hormone levels and/or the barometric pressure. And did you know they are 2-3 times more common in women than men?
Migraines can be managed with medication (over-the-counter or prescription) as well as by avoiding whatever triggers them. Some common triggers are certain foods, hormonal changes, barometric pressure changes, stress, and medication. Ask your neurologist for a list of potential culprits and start keeping a diary of when you get your migraines to learn your specific triggers. Your diary ought to include:
- what you were eating
- what you were doing
- where you were at the time of onset
- what the weather was like at that moment
In essence, be your own detective and share your findings with you doctor to figure out what causes your migraines. Once you discover the causes, you can work on avoiding them.
According to the National MS Society, although headache or migraine is not a common symptom of MS some reports suggest that people with MS do have an increased incidence of certain types of headache including migraine. There may be a common factor in both MS and migraine such as inflammation, depression or optic neuritis.
The MS and Migraine Connection MS Watch claimed that headache is a common problem especially for people living with relapsing-remitting MS. “Despite the link between MS and migraine, it is not clear if headaches exacerbate MS, or if MS contributes to migraine-like headaches.” To date, studies comparing MRI scans of MS patients with headache to those with no headache have not observed a significant association between MS progression and increased migraine activity.
It is also important to investigate if some of your MS medications could be causing your migraines, in which case your neurologist may want to alter them. And, it is possible that some of your migraine medications might have an adverse effect on your MS.
During a migraine event, it is likely you may experience dizziness or balance issues – I sometimes do. You might also experience spatial disorientation and/or visual acuity problems. If these symptoms do not go away after your migraine does, this could point to vestibular dysfunction and ought to be investigated (I’m currently going through vestibular therapy).
If migraine inhibits your normal routine, address your concerns with your neurologist so as to be evaluated fully. There are arrays of testing and rehabilitation techniques available so you should not have to suffer. Most likely with proper diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and/or changing a few environmental factors, you can prevent or stop migraines from happening. Of course, if warranted, you may have to take a preventative medication in addition to your lifestyle modifications.
My take on all this: I do not believe MS and migraine are related although there certainly are similarities between the two. Both are inflammatory diseases, more common among women, and can be triggered by stress. Only you can figure out what causes your migraines and what you can do about it. Talk to your neurologist who is treating your MS, let him/her know you are experiencing migraines, show him/her your diary, and together you will hopefully come up with a prevention and treatment plan.
Do you suffer from migraines?
Barbara inspires hope through mindful health and a meaningful life. By combining healthy living, spirituality, and neuroscience principles, she helps people understand how to be proactive in their health care versus reactionary in their sick care so they can feel great in their body and in their life. Her greatest wish is to never hear a person say, “I should be taking better care of myself.” To learn more and receive her FREE guide, visit Appelbaum Wellness.
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