If you have fibromyalgia, you are probably experiencing muscle aches and pains all over your body. You may also notice that you suffer from more headaches or migraines than you used to before the onset of your fibromyalgia. Headaches can make fibromyalgia even harder to deal with – they can contribute to the pain you are already suffering from as well as to the sleep disturbances, nausea, and fatigue that characterize the disease. If you find that you are suffering from headaches or migraines with your fibromyalgia, you are not alone.
Types of Headaches
Everyone has experienced a headache at some point in their life. That aching or throbbing pain in the head, behind the eyes, or in the temples can hit anyone without warning. In fact, headaches are common occurrences and can be caused by fatigue, hunger, illness, or stress. Often, headaches can be dealt with simply by taking over the counter painkillers. But for people who already have fibromyalgia, taking care of a constant headache may not be not be so simple.
People with fibromyalgia tend to suffer from three different types of headaches: muscle tension headaches, migraines and combination headaches.
Muscle Tension Headaches: Also referred to as muscle contraction headaches, tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions that occur in the neck, head, jaw, upper back, and shoulders. These muscle spasms are first felt at the base of the neck but soon work their way upwards, eventually spreading to the temples. People often describe these headaches as feeling like a band tightening around their entire head. Tension headache pain can range from moderate to severe and typically lasts a few hours.
Migraine Headaches: Migraine headaches are caused by constrictions of your blood vessels and arteries, and are thus also known as vascular headaches. Due to stress, fatigue, or illness, the blood vessels in your head and neck begin to constrict and then dilate, causing severe pain, nausea, dizziness, and eye pain. A migraine headache can also move around your head, shifting from side to side.
The most common type of migraine is called the “common” migraine, and affects about 70% of migraine sufferers. The common migraine is usually preceded by episodes of anxiety, depression, and fatigue. The less common type of migraine is the “classic” migraine, and is always immediately preceded by visual symptoms including double vision, blurry vision, flashing dots, bright lights, or distorted vision. These visual symptoms are often called the migraine aura. Sufferers of the “classic” migraine may experience these symptoms for 15 to 60 minutes immediately before a migraine. Migraine symptoms typically last about 4 hours, though they can plague you for as long as a week. Migraines can develop into chronic headaches.
Combination Headaches: People with fibromyalgia can suffer from a combination of both headache types (tension and migraine).
No one is exactly sure of the triggers that cause severe headaches in people with fibromyalgia. Sleeping problems and fatigue are probably related to the increased number of headaches suffered during the illness.
Muscle spasms and pain caused by fibromyalgia may also increase the frequency of headaches. Migraine headache triggers include light, sound, and weather. Stress often triggers frequent tension headaches.
Causes of Headaches in Fibromyalgia
Headaches are an extremely common symptom of fibromyalgia. In fact, more than 50% of people with fibromyalgia suffer from constant headaches or migraines.
There are a number of interesting theories as to why people with fibromyalgia suffer from so many headaches. Many of these theories rest on the idea that the same dysfunction that causes fibromyalgia also causes migraine headaches.
- Sleep Disorders: Migraine and tension headaches may affect people with fibromyalgia because of the disordered sleep that fibromyalgia often causes. Numerous studies conducted on migraine sufferers found that their sleep patterns were significantly disturbed, particularly by sleep apnea. Many people with fibromyalgia also suffer from sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders. This may be the reason why so many people with the syndrome suffer from morning headaches. Sleep disorders also tend to make the severity and frequency of headaches worse.
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD): A large percentage of people with fibromyalgia also suffer from another disorder referred to as TMJD. This disorder causes muscle and joint pain in the face, jaw, and neck, and often causes severe migraine headaches. This disorder may account for the large number of headache sufferers among fibromyalgia sufferers. TMJD also causes bruxism (grinding of the teeth) in many fibromyalgia sufferers, which can also contribute to headaches.
- Low Levels of Serotonin: One of the most widely held theories posits that migraine headaches are actually caused by the same factors that cause fibromyalgia. This would mean that the migraine headaches aren’t actually a symptom of fibromyalgia, but are actually a concurrent illness. Recent studies performed on people with migraine headaches show low-levels of serotonin in their brains. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to communicate pain signals to different parts of the brain. People who don’t have enough serotonin don’t seem to be able to communicate pain signals effectively, resulting in increased, and even severe, pain. Fibromyalgia has also been linked to low levels of serotonin in the brain.
- Low Levels of Magnesium: The mineral magnesium is also found in low levels in both migraine sufferers and people with fibromyalgia. Studies support that these low magnesium levels may actually be a cause for migraine headaches and fibromyalgia.
How do Headaches affect Fibromyalgia
Unfortunately, headaches can make fibromyalgia pain much more intense. Headaches, especially migraines, tend to increase your fatigue, making pain much more difficult to tolerate.
In fact, 36% of fibromyalgia sufferers with chronic migraines experience greater levels of depression and pain in their illness.
If you have severe headaches with your fibromyalgia, contact your health care provider to find a treatment that is suitable for you.