When most people think of MS, migraine usually doesn’t come to mind. Yet, research shows that patients with MS are far more likely to experience migraine than the average person. (1.)
Some people never have a migraine attack in their life – until their multiple sclerosis (MS) shows up. Others seek medical attention for headaches, only to discover they have MS.
So, does MS cause migraine? Or do the two conditions just tend to happen in the same people?
In this article, we’ll break down what the research says and whether the link between migraine and MS is legit.
Migraine is a common condition, affecting around 12% of Americans.(2.) MS on the other hand, is rare. Less than 1% of people in the US have multiple sclerosis. (3.)
Now here’s where things get interesting. Research shows that migraine affects between 31% to 43% of people with MS. (1. & 4.) That’s roughly three to four times the prevalence of people without multiple sclerosis!
Given those stats, many assume there must be a link between MS and migraine.
What’s the Link Between MS and Migraine?
Migraine and MS are both due to issues with the central nervous system. But they play out in very different ways.
MS is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks myelin, the protective coating around your nerves. This can result in a host of symptoms including pain, tingling, weakness, and vision problems.
No one’s exactly sure what causes migraine. But it’s thought to be due to abnormal brain activity affecting the blood vessels and chemicals of the brain. (5.) The hallmark symptom of migraine is throbbing one-sided head pain. Yet, it can cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and sensitivity to light too.
While research shows that MS and migraine often go hand in hand, the whys remain unclear. Scientists aren’t sure whether MS triggers migraine or if certain people are just susceptible to both conditions.
Most people with migraine and MS had migraine attacks before their MS diagnosis
Yet some people’s migraine symptoms worsen after the onset of their MS. (6.) For others, migraine doesn’t emerge until after MS symptoms appear. Some suspect certain medications may be to blame.
Case in point: interferon, a medication that’s often prescribed to treat MS symptoms. (7.) For some people, interferon can trigger headaches. So, if someone receives a MS diagnosis and begins taking interferon, headaches may pop up.
But it goes both ways. Some medications prescribed for migraine can cause symptoms that mimic MS.
One study showed that topiramate, a medication used for migraine, can cause cognitive problems. (8.) This includes memory issues and trouble concentrating, both symptoms that can affect people with MS. (9.)
But medications aren’t the only link between migraine and MS. Both conditions share similar symptoms and comorbidities.
What are the Similarities Between MS and Migraine?
As mentioned, multiple sclerosis and migraine both affect the central nervous system. But that isn’t where their similarities end. Here are a few more ways migraine and MS are alike:
If you’re reading this, you likely know that migraine symptoms come on as attacks. The same is true for most cases of multiple sclerosis.
Around 85% of people with MS have relapsing-remitting MS. (10.) For people with this form of MS, symptoms come on as flares or relapses, followed by periods of remission.
MS flares and migraine attacks can both be set off by triggers. Apart from stress (which seems to be a trigger for almost everything), most MS and migraine triggers are unique.
MS triggers include:
Migraine triggers include:
- Lack of sleep
- Weather changes
- Strong scents
- Bright lights
- Certain foods, including alcohol, aspartame, caffeine, aged cheeses, and chocolate
Visual problems can also occur with both conditions. Some people with MS experience optic neuritis, a visual symptom due to lesions on the optic nerve. Optic neuritis can cause blurry vision, double vision, and even the loss of vision in one eye.
People who have migraine with aura may also experience visual disturbances. This might manifest as bright spots, flashes, or zig zags. Some even lose vision altogether for brief periods! (11.)
The main difference is how long these visual symptoms last. Visual disturbances from migraine with aura tend to last between 20-60 minutes. Yet, visual symptoms from MS flares can persist for days or even weeks.
Depression is a comorbidity
Living with a chronic condition like MS or migraine can be frustrating – even debilitating. That may explain why depression is more common in people with either condition.
People with migraine are 2-4 times more likely to deal with depression than someone without migraine. (12.) And half of all people with MS suffer from depression at some point in their lives. (13.)
Why Misdiagnosis Happens
Since MS and migraine symptoms are similar, misdiagnosis is common. In fact, one study found that out of 241 new patients with multiple sclerosis, 18% were wrongly diagnosed. (14.) Of those misdiagnosed patients, 16% had migraine.
Another study from Neurology found that out of 110 patients diagnosed with MS, 33% had been misdiagnosed for ten or more years! (15.)
So symptoms aside, why does misdiagnosis happen so often?
Well, for many, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results are to blame. Both migraine and MS can cause brain lesions, which can show up on MRIs. This can make diagnosis tricky.
Treatment for MS and Migraine
Doctors often prescribe medications to manage symptoms of multiple sclerosis and migraine. But prevention is the simplest treatment option for both.
Making healthy lifestyle shifts may ease symptoms and even prevent relapses and attacks from occurring. Here are a few prevention tips to add to your toolbox:
As mentioned, both migraine and MS can be triggered by environmental factors such as weather, heat, and certain foods. But not everyone’s triggers are the same.
For some migraineurs, bright lights and hormones may set them off. For others, caffeine and poor sleep are the culprits. That’s why knowing your own triggers is key.
So get clear on your triggers (this free migraine diary can help). That way, you can shift your lifestyle to stave off future relapses and attacks. (16.)
However, you don’t want to overdo it. Intense exercise can set off migraine attacks for some. So, pass on spin class and stick to moderate activities such as walking, swimming, and leisurely bike rides. (17.)
Get nutritional support
Eating a wholesome diet filled with fruits, veggies, and healthy fats provides the nutrients needed to support brain health.
However, certain nutrients and herbs can provide extra support. Lack of vitamin D is one trigger for multiple sclerosis flares. One simple way to remedy this is to get regular sun exposure. But if you live somewhere where sunlight is sparse, consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
For migraine, magnesium deficiency is often an issue. One study showed that taking a daily magnesium supplement reduced migraine frequency by 42%. (18.) Research also shows riboflavin (vitamin B2) can help stave off migraine attacks and reduce symptoms.
If you’re looking for a migraine support supplement that contains both, consider MigreLief. This safe and effective formula features magnesium, riboflavin, and Puracol Feverfew for a triple shot of migraine support.
Migraine is far more common in people with MS. This makes many wonder if MS causes migraine or if it’s simply a coincidence. For now, scientists aren’t sure. Some aspects of migraine attacks and MS relapses are similar, such as visual symptoms, which also blurs the lines.
Some people are even misdiagnosed with MS, when in fact they have migraine. That’s why it’s important to share a detailed account of symptoms with your doctor. Often doctors prescribe medications to manage symptoms of MS and migraine.
Yet, the best treatment is prevention. Avoiding triggers, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and nutritional support can all help ease the severity of future attacks.
The MigreLief collection of supplements was created by Akeso Health Sciences to help migraine sufferers of all ages. AKESO formulates world class dietary supplements that provide nutritional support for the most common health issues that concern people most, such as migraines, headaches, joint health, stress & anxiety, memory, sleeplessness, ADHD, and more. Changing lives is the reasons we wake up every day passionate about the special products we provide to our customers. Helping you to get well and stay well is our bottom line.
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