Headaches and fibromyalgia

Headaches can affect up to 70% of fibromyalgia sufferers and can exaggerate other fibromyalgia symptoms

BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
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An introduction to headaches and fibromyalgia

Headaches are thought to affect up to 70% of those suffering from fibromyalgia, and studies suggest links between fibromyalgia and chronic headache sufferers. Aside from being very painful, headaches can also cause problems with concentration and difficulty controlling emotions.

There are different types of headache and is important to understand what is causing or triggering your symptoms, in order to find an effective treatment.

Why does fibromyalgia cause headaches?

There are three main types of headache commonly experienced with fibromyalgia – tension headaches, migraines and combination headaches. Each has a  slightly different set of causes.

  • Tension headaches are felt as a tight band around the forehead and temples. They are caused by muscle tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck. This type of headache is usually triggered by a stressful period or activity, and typically lasts a few hours
  • Migraines are caused by dilation and contraction of blood vessels in the head. They are often accompanied with visual aura or nausea. This type of headache can last anything from four hours to a week, and may then develop into chronic headaches
  • A combination headache occurs in patients who experience both tension and migraine type headache.

Things as simple as not drinking enough water can result in a headache. However long-term or chronic headaches often have more complex roots. As many fibromyalgia patients experience some form of stress or anxiety with their symptoms, this is thought to trigger headaches, particularly tension headaches.

Poor sleep may also result in headaches. Many fibromyalgia patients struggle to establish a good sleep routine, resorting to resting during the day and a limited number of hours sleep at night.

Additionally, it is thought that the pain processing function in fibromyalgia patients is hyper-sensitive, meaning that the pain they experience is far more than it should be for the trigger. This can make them more sensitive to any type of pain, so what should be a mild headache may present itself as excruciatingly painful.

What home remedies are there for headaches?

If your headache is a tension-type headache, then limiting the amount of stress you are exposed to is important. While this can be easier said than done, there are certain strategies you can employ to manage stress. Above all, remember to keep breathing deeply, as this helps the muscles to relax, and smile and laugh as much as possible. This has been shown to release ‘feel-good’ chemicals into the bloodstream.

If you are prone to migraine headaches, you may find that certain foods trigger symptoms, most commonly chocolate, red wine and citrus fruit. Additionally, magnesium deficiency and dehydration can worsen symptoms. Therefore, keeping a close eye on your diet, and eliminating suspected trigger foods from the diet may be effective.

You should also ensure that you eat regularly as dropping blood sugar levels can result in headaches. You should eat three meals a day, at the same time each day, to help your body regulate its blood sugar, but if you feel it dropping in between meals, snacks such as dried fruit and nuts may be beneficial.

Are there herbal remedies to help me?

With tension-type headaches, relieving pressure you feel in the form of stress or anxiety is likely to improve your symptom. There are several herbal remedies you canuse to achieve this. The most common include:

  • Valerian – this is a natural tranquiliser which decreases the activity of the nervous system, and is thought to reduce muscle tension. Fresh extracts of this herb are available in the licensed herbal remedy Stress Relief Daytime
  • Avena sativa – this was traditionally used as a nerve tonic and is now used to ease symptoms of stress, anxiety and nervous tension. It is available as oral drops.

What about conventional medicines?

If your symptoms are not relieved after a period of trying home or herbal remedies, or you notice a worsening of your symptoms, it is worth asking for your doctor’s advice, as this will also help to rule out underlying conditions other than fibromyalgia which may be causing your symptoms.

A doctor is likely to suggest strong pain-killing medication, either available over-the-counter for migraine headaches, or anti-anxiety medication if you experience tension headaches. Some of these treatments may be short-term measures, so you should discuss which treatment is likely to be the most effective for you.

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