Migraines Heighten Risk Of These 5 Health Problems

Migraines, the debilitating headaches that affect as much as 15% of the general population, do more than cause excruciating pain—they’ve also been linked to a slew of other health issues.

Migraine sufferers who experience auras, visual disturbances that sometimes signal an impending attack, are especially predisposed to these related conditions, according to Prevention magazine. Part of the risk may be related to the way migraines change the brain. The painful headache attacks kill brain cells and tissues, similar to what happens during old age, reports Prevention.

More migraines means more significant changes in brain structure and a correspondingly higher risk of developing another, related disease. Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd tells Prevention:

“Individuals who have migraines are experiencing a neurobiological change that causes cells to die.”

Doctors attribute the loss in tissue to decreased blood flow to certain areas of the brain and emphasize the importance of tracking triggers like foods and stress to reduce migraine frequency.

Although migraine sufferers may at times feel powerless over reducing these painful attacks, the condition is often manageable through modifying lifestyle behaviors related to food and other triggers, and also reducing stress.

Stress reduction is a process and not an event, says WebMD, and everyday choices like learning how to relax, having realistic expectations, and engaging in problem solving can help reduce tension and the frequency of migraines.

Here are five health conditions that may develop as a result of migraines.

1. TMJ

TMJ is shorthand for the temporo mandibular joint, which is the joint linking the jaw and the skull. The official name for disorders involving this joint is temporo mandibular disorders (TMD), but most people refer to it as TMJ, reports WebMD.

TMJ is a painful condition often recognized by a clicking or popping sound when the jaw opens and closes. Symptoms of this condition include pain in the jaw area, but also potentially the neck and shoulders when you open your mouth, chew, or even speak. The jaw, because it doesn’t hinge properly, may also get stuck.

TMJ may trigger migraines because it overwhelms the trigeminal nerve system. This nerve system scans incoming sensations and decides how threatening they are to the body, responding in kind depending on severity. A taco chip rubbing against the roof of the mouth is different than a dentist’s tool, explains Migraine.com.

With TMJ, a person’s trigeminal nerve system becomes overwhelmed and tired, and it stops working properly. When tired, the nerve system overreacts, activating the migraine response through secreting natural chemicals that cause swelling and pain.

2. Carpal tunnel syndrome

This painful condition results when the median nerve, which runs through the carpal tunnel into the palm of the hand from the forearm, is squeezed or experiences ongoing pressure.

Common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include a burning or tingling pain, numbness, or weakness in the wrist or hand. Sometimes the pain or discomfort also radiates up the arm.

Causes of this pressure that results in pain include injury to the wrist, work stress, or rheumatoid arthritis, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

A strong link between migraines and carpal tunnel also exists, according to research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Researchers said the study results add credence to the benefit of nerve decompression surgery for migraines, which is a topic of medical debate.

People with carpal tunnel syndrome face double the risk of developing migraines, and people with migraines are more likely than the general population to develop carpal tunnel. Researchers aren’t sure why the link exists, but believe patients may have some common risk factor, either in the workings of the brain or the rest of the body. Shared risk factors for the two conditions include being female, obese, and a smoker.

3. Parkinson’s disease

This neurological disease is known for its telltale tremors, but the condition results from disturbances in the nervous system. The condition is progressive, which means it worsens with time.

Migraine patients may have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s, according to research from the Maryland-based Uniformed Services University. The risk is especially dangerous for those patients experiencing migraines during middle age. Nearly 20% of migraine patients with auras were found to have Parkinson’s symptoms compared to 7.5% of those without headaches. Meanwhile, about 13% of migraine sufferers without auras were discovered to have symptoms of Parkinson’s.

While the disease cannot be cured, it’s not considered fatal. However, advanced stages can render patients unable to walk and care for themselves, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. There are medications available to manage symptoms.

4. Heart disease and stroke

Migraine patients, particularly those with auras, face an elevated risk of a cardiovascular event like heart disease or stroke, according to Prevention magazine. Migraines with auras carry up to a 400% increased risk of stroke, although this risk is general and not only present during a migraine attack, according to The Migraine Trust.

Some people worry that migraines are symptoms of strokes, but strokes are usually signified by face drooping, disturbances in speech, and arm weakness.

The surge in risk is connected to disruptions in blood flow. A stroke happens when part of the brain is cut off from its blood supply, and migraines also involve changes in blood flow to the brain. Using oral birth control and smoking further heighten the risk of stroke, and women who suffer from migraines with auras are advised against taking oral contraception.

Researchers aren’t sure why the two conditions are connected, but some experts believe people who see auras prior to migraines may also have problems with their cardiovascular systems, particularly related to blood clotting.

5. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia and migraines have a few things in common: researchers aren’t 100% sure what causes either conditions and both disproportionately affect women. Research has also uncovered yet another link between the two: fibromyalgia, the disease of widespread pain, is more likely to develop in people with migraines, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Although fibromyalgia is a little-understood disease, researchers attribute the link to disruptions in neurotransmitters like serotonin and adrenaline. Another culprit may be low magnesium levels.

Do you have any of these conditions in addition to migraines?

Image by mbtphoto (away a lot) via Flickr