How many chronic conditions do you have, including migraine? Many people with migraine also live with autoimmune diseases – some have multiple – this is because migraine and autoimmune diseases are considered to be comorbid! (Note: a comorbid condition is a disease or condition that is simultaneously present with another, generally occurring in a greater frequency than with the general population.)
What are Autoimmune Diseases?
According to the National Institutes of Health, our immune systems work together to protect us against viruses, bacteria, and infections. It tries to identify, kill, and eliminate the invaders that might hurt us. A disorder of the immune system is called an autoimmune disease. Immune cells target the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake signaling the body to attack them.
The Autoimmune Association states that there are over 100 autoimmune diseases, many of which occur in clusters. In addition, it is possible for their symptoms to overlap with or mimic those of other chronic illnesses such as migraine attacks. Joint stiffness and pain, weight gain, fatigue, muscle pain, rashes, blisters, and changes in skin color are just a few of the symptoms that may occur.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor about having an autoimmune blood panel test to help with diagnosis. Your doctor will work with you to find a diagnosis based on your blood test results and your symptoms. Because autoimmune diseases can occur in clusters, and because many symptoms overlap with non-autoimmune diseases, it can be a long journey from early symptoms to a definitive diagnosis. It is important to partner with a specialist, generally a rheumatologist, during that journey, to try to come up with the most accurate diagnosis or diagnoses, and to determine the best course of treatment.
Autoimmune Diseases Can Impact Migraine
Here are a few of the autoimmune diseases that can have an impact on migraine, or have similar symptoms, although there are many more than those listed below:
People with lupus often experience “lupus headache.” These headache attacks can closely mimic a migraine attack. If you have headache attacks and lupus, talk with your doctor. This can be a sign that lupus has spread to the central nervous system.
MS – Multiple Sclerosis
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, 43% of people with MS living in American countries also have migraine. The most frequent headache type in people with MS who are treated with interferon medication is migraine. Both conditions can cause vision changes including double or blurry vision, and both can also cause numbness and tingling in the face, body, or fingers.
RA – Rheumatoid Arthritis
A recent study looked at the bidirectional association between RA and migraine. Bidirectional means that they examined how RA may affect migraine, and how migraine may affect RA. They found “Migraine increases the risk of RA, and RA is also associated with an increased risk of migraine.” In addition, the study states that women are at higher risk of both RA and migraine and recommend women get screened more often for both conditions.
It’s important to manage all chronic conditions. One of the most challenging things about having migraine together with one or more autoimmune diseases, is managing treatment options so that one doesn’t make the other worse. In addition, having multiple chronic conditions can cause stress, which can result in everything flaring up. It’s important to work with your medical team on a comprehensive approach that manages all of your conditions. This may mean seeing multiple specialists and then ensuring that each of them knows what the others are doing and what treatments they recommend. You should also consider any lifestyle changes that may be beneficial, and of course, remember to take all medications as prescribed, noting any potential side effects and communicating with your doctors about any concerns you may have.