I was recently doing some reading on fibromyalgia, and noticed something interesting. Once in a while migraine is listed as a symptom of fibromyalgia.
For example, the National Fibromyalgia Association (USA) (a website which I respect, by the way) says: Additional symptoms [of fibromyalgia] may include: … headaches and migraines …
Now, to be fair, this statement is under the heading of "Other symptoms/overlapping conditions". Still, they revert to using just the term symptoms when they actually describe the relationship between migraine (attacks) and fibromyalgia.
Another site writes: Headaches are an extremely common symptom of fibromyalgia. In fact, more than 50% of people with fibromyalgia suffer from constant headaches or migraines.
However, this site goes on to explain that there may be a common cause or dysfunction for both migraine and fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, the information on migraine on this site is very out of date.
Two things having a common cause – one thing being a symptom of the other – those are two very different scenarios. But does it really matter? After all, if two things have a common cause, isn’t it likely that treating one may treat the other as well, even if one isn’t technically a symptom of the other?
Yes, it’s true that treating one may help with the other. But I’m afraid simply calling migraine a "symptom" of fibromyalgia may oversimplify the matter.
Here’s what we do know:
- People with fibromyalgia are much more likely to suffer from migraine attacks. (Some say "migraine-like" headaches, but I’m not sure that’s a useful distinction)
- There are many treatments that are common to both
- There are common co-morbid conditions (conditions that tend to go along with migraine or fibromyalgia), such as irritable bowel syndrome and allodynia
- Researchers have noticed similar dysfunctions in migraine and fibromyalgia patients (for example, in the serotonergic (serotonin) and adrenergic systems.
- Not everyone with migraine has fibromyalgia, and not everyone with fibromyalgia has migraine
Although we know there are many commonalities between migraine and fibromyalgia, we don’t know the cause of either, and we don’t know for sure why many people tend to have both. Could it be that they both are manifestations of the same disease? Or could it be that there are mechanisms in one that tend to trigger the symptoms of the other? Though we’ve learned a lot about both in the past few years, we still can’t answer these questions with certainty.
Because of this uncertainty, I think it’s better to call migraine a co-morbid condition, or an overlapping condition. Treating fibromyalgia alone may or may not take care of your migraine attacks. We need to be honest about this. (I’m not suggesting the sites above are intentionally dishonest – I’m just saying that terminology is important in this case.)
That being said, here’s what we should continue doing in relation to the migraine fibromyalgia connection:
- Continue to research the connection, the related mechanisms of the two.
- Don’t just treat one or the other – investigate treatments for both.
- Consider treatments that may be able to treat both. Be sure your doctor is aware that you’re dealing with both conditions (if you are).
- Although we still don’t understand the connection, recognize that one could actually lead to the other. If this is the case, it’s another reason not to put off proper treatment of either migraine or fibromyalgia.
To learn more about fibromyalgia, visit the National Fibromyalgia Association website.
What do you think? Is this an important distinction? Does it matter if migraine is a symptom or a co-morbid condition?