Common headaches in lupus are they migraines?

Common headaches in lupus are they migraines?

Lupus and Migraines: Understanding the Connection

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Aug. 4, 2023 – Around 1.5 million Americans live with systemic lupus erythematosus, the most common form of lupus, and more than half of them regularly get headaches. New research now shows that these often are not just normal headaches. For many, they’re actually migraines.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can attack any organ in the body – the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, joints, and blood cells. It is a chronic condition, meaning that patients may have flare-ups, but then other times they’ll be symptom-free. Inflammation is a prime cause of lupus.

However, lupus also affects the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. Antibodies that bind to nerve cells or blood vessels can affect the central nervous system, leading to headaches. Lupus can also cut off blood flow to nerves, causing further impact on the central nervous system and triggering headaches. Brain inflammation can directly cause headaches as well.

The Variety of Lupus Headaches

A “lupus headache” can come in various forms. A recent study highlights that one-third of patients with the most common form of lupus experience migraines. This could be due in part to Raynaud’s phenomenon, a complication of lupus that limits blood flow to the fingers and toes and is often associated with migraines.

In addition to migraines, lupus patients can also have primary headaches. These types of headaches are not dangerous or directly related to the disease itself. They may simply be a result of emotional stress, which can be related to managing the physical pain of other lupus symptoms.

However, it is important to note that headaches in lupus patients can indicate more serious issues. Dr. Ashira Blazer, an assistant professor of medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, warns that headaches in lupus patients could be a sign of a problem with blood vessels in the brain. Conditions such as antiphospholipid syndrome, which can lead to blood clots in the brain, increase the risk of stroke. Therefore, any lupus patient experiencing vision problems or cognitive changes should seek medical attention promptly.

Lupus Headaches and Vascular Diseases

New research from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil suggests that patients with systemic lupus erythematosus have a higher risk of experiencing headaches related to acute vascular diseases like vasculitis. Additionally, certain lupus therapies, such as immunosuppressant drugs, can cause aseptic meningitis – inflammation of the lining in the brain, leading to headaches.

Symptoms of Lupus and Diagnosis

It is vital to identify the root cause of a headache in lupus patients. If someone with lupus experiences worsening or more frequent headaches, they should consult their doctor. Lupus may or may not be the cause of the headaches right away, so ruling out serious conditions like stroke, intracranial pressure, or cancer is essential.

Diagnosing a lupus headache may involve a spinal tap, MRI, or CT scan. Headaches directly linked to lupus inflammation often do not respond to over-the-counter pain relievers, leading to the prescription of corticosteroids.

Treatment Options and Self-Care Strategies

When the headache is related to the disease, treatments may focus on reducing inflammation during a lupus flare-up. In the case of migraines, treatment options include prescription drugs or common pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Over-the-counter migraine medications can also be effective for some patients. Additionally, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and avoiding trigger foods are crucial in preventing migraines.

Lupus patients can improve their overall well-being by managing factors that could cause a flare-up. Self-care strategies such as limiting sun exposure, avoiding halogen or fluorescent light, preventing injuries and infections, regularly taking prescribed medication, and consulting with a doctor before consuming additional medications are highly recommended.

In Conclusion

Lupus is a complex autoimmune disease that affects various organs, including the central nervous system. Headaches, often manifesting as migraines, are a common symptom among lupus patients. While some headaches may be unrelated to the disease itself, others can indicate more serious issues. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial in managing lupus headaches effectively. Additionally, incorporating self-care strategies can significantly improve the overall quality of life for lupus patients, reducing the frequency and intensity of headaches and other symptoms associated with the disease.

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