The Multiple Sclerosis/Migraine Connection

Patient Expert

A recently published report (Dr. Mario Zappia, University of Catania) states that "in an analysis adjusting for age and sex, researchers observed a significant association between MS and headache. The likelihood of headache was more than twofold higher in the MS patients than in the control patients. The increased risk of headache in MS patients "supports the hypothesis of a common pathway between these conditions; as suggested by other studies, the higher frequency of headache in MS subjects could be related to brainstem lesions."

The report is careful to note that "the role of brainstem in migraine pathogenesis is still controversial, and other types of study are needed to confirm this hypothesis."

Let's hope that further research on the ties between multiple sclerosis and chronic headache moves forward. As we try to unravel the mysteries of two life-altering diseases, no stone can be left unturned.

Headache is not usually considered a symptom of MS, but as researchers continue to search for clues into the cause of multiple sclerosis, every piece of the puzzle is important. Migraine, like multiple sclerosis, is a neurological disease. That these two conditions, both affecting more women than men, could somehow be linked is an avenue that must be pursued. Clues into either disorder could lead to important advances for both.

On a personal level, I am thrilled that researchers are looking into this possibility. From the first hints of multiple sclerosis, doctors dismissed my inquiries about a possible connection. In fact, on my first set of MRI's, evidence of MS was missed because, according to the neurologist, the numerous lesions showing on the slide were actually the scars left behind by years of chronic migraines.

Another neurologist, looking at the very same slides, emphatically disagreed with that assessment. Those slides, along with neurological history and exam, resulted in an official diagnosis of MS. Giving the first doctor the benefit of the doubt, it is intriguing that a neurologist would have difficulty distinguishing between the two.

Another study (The Netherlands) reported that "people with frequent migraines or a long history of migraines are at an increased risk of progressive brain damage." MRIs on migrainers who suffered more than three attacks per month, or more than a 15-year history of attacks, showed significantly more brain abnormalties.

Oddly enough, at the very time that my MS symptoms became too obvious to ignore, the migraines eased up. I still have them, but they've been drastically reduced in frequency and severity. Could there be a connection? I'd sure like to know.

Do you suffer from both chronic headaches and multiple sclerosis? Please share your story here.