Lupus Headaches vs Migraines – What’s the Difference?

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Confused whether the headaches are lupus headaches vs migraines or both? Understanding the causes and symptoms can help you decide the right treatment options.

#LupusWarriors might experience the dreaded lupus fog bringing the mind and body often to a confused state and difficulty remembering potentially crucial parts of their life. And on top of that, the inability to adequately express themselves could also leave individuals who suffer from this condition feeling isolated and alone.

The struggles of lupus are real and severe. However, there is one symptom that people really dread—the lupus headache.

In the past, doctors and individuals had a difficult time understanding whether the “lupus headache” was a real issue. The event closely mimics either a primary headache or a migraine headache making it difficult to distinguish between the three. However, it’s imperative to differentiate, because there are different treatment strategies for migraines and lupus headaches.

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Lupus, Migraines, and Comorbidity

Medical professionals understand lupus has the high potential of coupling with other conditions. (Lupus Corner blog post Fibromyalgia & Lupus: Comorbidity of Illnessesexplains that concept further.) It, unfortunately, has the high potential of coupling with chronic migraines or bring about migraines.

Migraine Causes

Migraines are also a rather gray area in the medical world. Potential causes of migraines include:

  • Sleep cycle changes
  • Weather changes
  • Food
  • Skipping meals
  • Drink
  • Preservatives and sweeteners
  • Sensory stimulation
  • Hormonal changes
  • Hormone medications
  • Other medications
  • Stress

Of note, #LupusWarriors are more susceptible to a compromised immune system, which can cause stress. Stress is also one of the main triggers for migraines. So, migraines can be a secondary symptom of lupus. (Side-note: Check out the blog post Aromatherapy, Stress Management, & Lupus to learn how to take it easy and prevent flares.)

 

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Chronic Migraine Causes

Chronic migraines are a different story. People who suffer from this condition do so completely outside of lupus. Chronic migraines most likely happen well in advance from the onset of lupus. Most common in women under the age of 40, (similar to lupus), puberty and its hormonal changes commence these debilitating occurrences.

Symptoms of Migraines

Migraines and chronic migraines happen in cycles. The worst part of the cycle is the “headache.” These symptoms include:

Pain on one side or both sides of your head

  • Pain that feels throbbing or pulsing
  • Sensitivity of the senses
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Lightheadedness and (sometimes) fainting

The usual medications medical providers choose to treat migraines are the same ones that treat primary headaches—analgesics; i.e., Naproxen.

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Lupus Headache Causes

Again—there is a debate whether a lupus headache is different from a regular headache. Dimos D. Mitsikostas, Petros P. Sfikakis, and Peter J. Goadsby shared their findings in A Meta‐Analysis for Headache in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: The Evidence and the Myth that the “lupus headache” is most likely just a primary headache.

The SYSTEMIC LUPUS ERYTHEMATOSUS DISEASE ACTIVITY INDEX, though, recognizes the term as legitimate and ranges it from mild (like a primary headache) to acute (like a migraine.) Many anecdotes from #LupusWarriors also support the existence of the “lupus headache.” Regardless, headaches from central nervous system lupus (CNS-SLE) are a real problem.

In some cases, lupus affects the central nervous system (CNS), which is where the headaches come into play. When CNS-SLE is active, the inflammation of the CNS causes the discomfort—more specifically, vasculitis.

What to Do Next—How to Determine If Headaches Are from Lupus

Talking to a medical team is essential to understand what treatment options are for headaches associated with lupus and migraines as some medications compromise the immune system. It is paramount to get checked for CNS-SLE if diagnosed with lupus and experiencing constant or severe headaches. Tests such as spinal taps and MRIs might need to take place to determine if the disease has spread to the CNS.

The Takeaway

Headaches and lupus seem to be one and the same. There are certain measures to complete to keep the body as healthy and comfortable as it possibly can be when experiencing lupus headaches—(be sure to take our survey and hear from other #LupusWarriors who have lupus headaches!). As always, there’s a community of people that understand the journey ahead and are here to support—hang in there.

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