Headaches and Fibromyalgia

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In addition to all over muscle and body aches, Fibromyalgia patients typically experience headaches or migraines more often than they did before the onset of the condition.  Adding headaches to the already complex dynamics of the syndrome make it even more difficult to deal with. Fibromyalgia headaches can exacerbate the existing pain, fatigue and mental distress that characterize the condition. 

Types of Headaches Linked To Fibromyalgia

There are three different types of general headaches that are linked to Fibromyalgia. These include: Tension Headaches, Migraines and Combination headaches.

Fibromyalgia tension headaches are the most common. They are caused by muscle spasms or contraction in the head, neck, jaw, shoulders and upper back. The muscle spasm typically originates at the base of the neck and works its way upwards all the way to the temples. Fibromyalgia patients describe these headaches as an extreme tightness encompassing the head that can cause pain upon movement or restrict head movement. These headaches typically last a couple of hours and can range from moderate to severe.

Fibromyalgia Migraine Headaches, also known as vascular headaches, are caused by constrictions of the blood vessels. Fatigue, stress and illness can all cause the blood vessels in the head and neck to dilate and constrict, causing severe pain, dizziness, eye pain and nausea. Migraine headaches also can move around your head at times. They can feel like incredibly painful pressure is building inside the skull in specific location points for no apparent reason.

Combination Headaches, which are a combination of tension headaches and migraine headaches, are commonly seen in Fibromyalgia sufferers.

Chronic Headaches and Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia sufferers are more vulnerable to headaches as compared to those who do not suffer from this syndrome. Moreover, Fibromyalgia chronic headaches can be disruptive and hamper everyday activities

Statistics show that about 76% of Fibromyalgia patients who sought treatment reported that they suffered from chronic headaches. Of these, 84% reported severe or significant impact caused by their headaches.

Studies conducted by the Department of Anesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, PA, USA, indicate that Fibromyalgia patients who suffer from headaches do not represent a significantly different subgroup as compared to those patients who did not suffer from headaches. General measures of psychological distress, pain, sleep quality and pain-related disability were similar in Fibromyalgia patients who suffered from chronic headaches as well as those who didn’t.

However, because of the common occurrence and the significant impact of chronic headaches in Fibromyalgia patients, headache evaluation is considered part of the routine assessment.

What Are The Causes Of Headaches In Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia headaches are caused by several different factors:

Sleep Disorders: People who suffer from migraines often show significantly disturbed sleep patterns. Fibromyalgia also often causes sleep related disorders including sleep apnea. This is thought to be one of the reasons who so may Fibromyalgia patients suffer from morning headaches. Moreover, sleep disorders also tend to increase the frequency and the severity of headaches.

 Low Serotonin Levels: Recent studies that have been done show that migraine headaches and Fibromyalgia may be caused by the same factors. This implies that migraines and Fibromyalgia are in fact concurrent illnesses and it contradicts the previously held theory that migraines are actually one of the symptoms of the syndrome. People who suffer from migraine headaches have reduced levels of serotonin in the brain. This low level of serotonin impedes the ability to communicate pain signals effectively, resulting in increased and even severe pain.

 TMJ or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder: A large number of people with Fibromyalgia also suffer from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or TMJ. This is a disorder that causes bruxism or grinding of the teeth as well as joint and muscle pain in the face, neck and jaw, all of which can also contribute to headaches. This disorder may account for a large number of Fibromyalgia patients who also suffer from headaches.

 Low Magnesium Levels: Fibromyalgia sufferers as well as people who suffer from migraines, both showed low levels of magnesium. 

 Stress:  Stress is considered to be a primary causal factor in Fibromyalgia and a key component to what causes headaches. Stress can lead to vascular contraction and muscle tightness contributing to both Migraine and Tension headaches.

Aggravating factors that make headaches worse in Fibromyalgia patients?

While there is no conclusive proof regarding Fibromyalgia specific aggravating factors, there are several potential causal relationships. Fatigue,  stress, anxiety and sleeping problems are thought to increase the frequency and severity of Fibromyalgia headaches.  Muscle spasms, myofascial pain and tender points in the neck, which are common symptoms of the syndrome, are also thought to trigger severe headaches in Fibromyalgia patients.

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