Asthma (Possibly) Linked To Chronic Migraine

Health Professional

Evidence already links asthma with allergies, anxiety, gastrointestinal reflux, and insomnia. The latest research seems to suggest asthma may also be linked with chronic migraines (more than 15 migraine headaches in a year).

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati studied 4,500 individuals who suffered from occasional (less than 15 in a year) migraines. Participants were divided into two groups: those without asthma and those with asthma.  They were then asked to fill out questionnaires in 2008 and 2009.

The results concluded that that only 2.5 percent of participants without asthma were diagnosed with new onset chronic migraine, while 5.5 percent of participants with asthma were diagnosed with new onset chronic migraine.  This means that asthmatics with occasional migraine were more than twice as likely to develop chronic migraine.

What to make of this data?  Asthma involves an overactive immune response where otherwise innocuous substances (asthma triggers) in the air are treated as enemies (like bacteria).  When inhaled, your immune system sets off a series of chemical reactions that includes the release of inflammatory markers that cause inflamed airways. This ultimately causes asthma and sets off asthma attacks.

Researchers believe the link may have to do with the fact that both asthma, and some headaches, are caused by inflammation of smooth muscles. Asthma is caused by inflammation of smooth muscles wrapped around airways, and some headaches are caused by inflammation of smooth muscles wrapped around blood vessels.

Researchers now believe that the release of inflammatory markers may do more than just cause and trigger asthma. They suspect they may be the reason many asthmatics also suffer from anxiety.  This recent study has them now suspecting they may also lead to chronic migraine.

Interestingly, while other studies show depression may also lead to chronic migraine, this study suggests that individuals with asthma are at even greater risk than those with depression.

Keep in mind this is just one study and one theory.  Research estimates that about 10 percent of individuals develop migraines, and only one percent develop chronic migraine. While this study may seem to indicate a link between asthma and chronic migraine, it does not prove anything as it is just one study.  While the theory that asthma-related inflammation may lead to migraine progression sounds like a valid theory, it is, in fact, just a theory.  Further studies will be needed to prove the link, and to show what the true cause and effect is.

In the meantime.  Yes, some asthmatics (including myself) do suffer from episodic migraines, and some do suffer from chronic migraine.  It is strongly recommended that if you experience headaches you let your doctor know, as there are many safe and effective ways of treating headaches.  This may also be key to preventing the progression of episodic headaches to chronic migraine.

See more from the other side: Progression to Chronic Migraine Impacted by Asthma

Further reading:

The Times of India: Asthma May Lead To Never Ending Migraine

Mayo Clinic: HeadachesWhat is the asthma syndrome?

Asthma: More Than Just A Lung Disease