More than a migraine?

For many people, migraine headaches do not happen in a vacuum. You might notice other changes in your body — including problems sleeping, widespread joint or muscle pain (as in fibromyalgia), high blood pressure, or even feelings of sadness, hopelessness or depression. Experts don’t really know whether migraine is the cause of or an effect of these conditions, but we do know that there is often a higher-than-normal-incidence of these kinds of problems in people who also have migraine. Some research has found that while depression affects 17 percent of the general population, it occurs in 47 percent of people with migraine headaches. In the words of that study’s author, “It seems logical migraine patients would be depressed because of their pain, but it goes the other way too — depressed patients are more likely to have migraine. We think the two disorders must have a common neurobiology.”

What you will learn in this article

  • What conditions are commonly associated with migraine
  • Why is it important to discuss all of your medical and emotional symptoms with your health care provider?

What conditions are commonly associated with migraine headache?

As we mentioned earlier, depression affects nearly half of all people with migraines, although the cause and effect relationship is not known. In addition to depression, other conditions are associated with migraine. These include endometriosis, fibromyalgia and jaw pain (TMJ syndrome), as well as Raynaud’s Disease (reduced blood circulation in hands and feet brought on by exposure to cold temperatures), high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome. It may be that some of these disorders have a common root, since many of them are related to blood vessels that are extra-sensitive in certain conditions. While these conditions are associated with the symptom of headache, it doesn’t mean that these are migraine headaches, which brings us to the next point of this article.

Why is it important to discuss all of your medical and emotional symptoms with your health care provider?

It is not just your responsibility to figure out the connections between your headache, if it is a migraine, and any other problems you are having. That is the job of both you and your health care provider working together, who has the expertise to take your complete medical history to diagnose not only the type of headache you have, but also any other medical conditions that may be present.

But you can do your part by making sure not to leave anything out when your provider asks you about your health, even if you think the problem is not related to migraine. This is because if you have other medical conditions, they may affect your treatment. For example, there may also be increased risk of heart attack or stroke associated with migraine in certain age groups, so if you don’t discuss everything that is going on in your body with your health care provider, it is a missed opportunity to treat all of these conditions. It may be, for example, that treating your high blood pressure or insomnia may also provide some relief from your headaches, or it may be necessary to combine medications and treatments. In addition, some conditions such as high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease may affect your migraine treatment plan, since some medications may not be appropriate.

In addition to alerting your provider to any other health conditions and risks that you may have, open discussions will also allow your provider to help with any problems with your quality of life, your work, your relationships with friends and family, your feelings, and your mood. Certain lifestyle modifications, such as reducing caffeine, eating regularly and getting enough sleep may help with a variety of health problems, including migraine.

The bottom line

Because headaches like migraines can be associated with other health problems, as well as depression and other emotional disorders, such as anxiety and even panic attacks, it is important to share all of your symptoms with your health care provider. Equally important: Do not try to treat yourself, because you may not have significant information about drug interactions and the effect of drugs on certain conditions. So seek medical help, don’t ignore what is going on in your body, and discuss everything with a health care provider whom you can trust and with whom you can build a long-term relationship.

References

Lipton, R., Hamelsky, S., Kolodner, K., Steiner T., & Stewart, W. (2000). Migraine, quality of life, and depression. Neurology, 55, 629-635.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2008). Headache: hope through research. Retrieved 6/20/08 from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/