Migraines and multiple sclerosis – it just sounds like a cruel combination of pain.
I mean, migraines alone are a doozy. If you know… you know.
They’re more than just a bad headache.
Migraines are a full body experience.
I often compare it to having brain freeze and the flu at the same time.
It can last hours, days, weeks and for the really unfortunate, their migraine has no end.
And what triggers a migraine for one person may not affect the next migraineur… and vice versa.
So, similar to MS, the migraine experience is unique to the individual and it can even change over time.
New Research: Migraines & Multiple Sclerosis
What I didn’t know and was shocked to learn from this recent article is that 1 in 4 people living with Multiple Sclerosis also experience migraines.
Talk about adding insult to injury.
One chronic condition is more than enough to handle.
The combination just feels cruel… not to mention nearly impossible to have any ounce of a social life because both MS and migraine can be unpredictable.
Life with MS isn’t easy.
Life with migraine isn’t easy.
Life with MS AND migraine… that’s rough.
So let’s take a closer look at this study.
By the Numbers: Migraines & Multiple Sclerosis
The study is titled ‘The association between multiple sclerosis and migraine’ and was reported in the journal ‘Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.’
Here’s what makes this research special: It’s not based on just one or two isolated studies. It’s a comprehensive analysis of 35 studies, spanning from 1969 to 2023. That’s a whopping 54 years of data, covering 27,678 individuals with MS.
So researchers from Iran reviewed all of this data to develop their findings.
Here’s a little background on the participants: the majority of them were women. No surprise there, given that MS tends to be less common in men.
Women with MS actually outnumber men with MS by nearly 4 to 1.
Migraines are also more common in women versus men.
Participants were mostly between the ages of 30 and 56.
As for their health status, many had mild to moderate disability levels.
The main goal of these researchers was to figure out how common migraines are in the MS community compared to the general public.
Here’s what they found.
Of those with MS, 24% experienced migraines.
So out of all the people that they studied with MS 1 in 4 got migraines.
Breaking that down further: 18% had migraines without an ‘aura’, while about 7% did.
If you’re not familiar with an aura it’s basically like a heads-up that a migraine is coming. Some people see some light flashes or feel a tingling before the migraine starts.
Migraine Rate Compared to the General Population
Now, if we take a step back and look at the general population, because as I said, the main goal of these researchers was to figure out how common migraines are in the MS community compared to the general public.
So compared to the general population, those living with MS are nearly twice as likely to get migraines.
Compared to over 250,000 people without MS, those with MS are nearly twice as likely to get migraines.
To sum it up, if you have MS, you likely have a higher migraine risk.
These results were especially surprising to me because I live this first hand.
I also work with a lot of clients in my nutrition coaching practice who are living with both MS and migraines.
What was disappointing about the research is it doesn’t go much beyond the fact that the MS community is more likely to experience debilitating migraines.
But the real question is: Why?
And what can we do about it?
They don’t directly answer either of those questions.
But that’s the information that would be most valuable to us so we can best manage migraines.
So, I’ll share with you a bit about my own personal experience with migraines and what I’ve learned over the years studying nutrition.
How to Manage Migraines with Multiple Sclerosis
First, if you’re like me, you may think that because you’re already seeing a neurologist for MS, that they can address migraines as well.
I mean a neurologist is who you see for migraines, right?
Yes, it’s true, however, the doctor who treats MS likely doesn’t want to oversee your migraines as well.
You’re best off finding a headache specialist who can help to manage migraines for you.
And really, a headache specialist will likely have more recommendations and options to help you.
With migraines there are so many medications on the market to consider. It’s a far different experience than MS where your options are so limited.
With migraines, there are prevention medications and there are rescue medications to help get you out of an active migraine.
They can also help you to manage the other symptoms that often come with migraines like nausea and vomiting.
So, in my opinion, the first stop is finding yourself a good headache specialist to discuss medications and different treatment options.
Tips for Preventing Migraines
Next, I have found that it’s far easier to prevent a migraine than it is to stop an active migraine.
In my experience, there is very little that will stop a migraine once it’s started outside of medicine. (That’s why my first tip is to meet with a headache specialist.)
That’s said, there is A LOT that you can do to prevent migraines or at least reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines.
Now if you’ve ever looked at a list of potential migraine triggers, it can be quite overwhelming.
The food list alone looks like the inventory list of the grocery store. It looks like just about every food is listed as a potential trigger for migraines.
Again, it’s overwhelming, I know.
This part is not easy, but it’s 100% worth it.
Doing an elimination diet is one of the best approaches to take.
If you’re not familiar with it, an elimination diet is where you eliminate all the potential triggers from your diet for a period of time and then reintroduce them one at a time to see which foods may trigger migraines for you.
It’s not the easiest diet to follow, that’s why I don’t recommend doing it alone though.
I work with a lot of people in my nutrition coaching practice on this elimination diet and it’s pretty involved.
However, to walk away knowing which foods are the biggest culprits to your migraines is really empowering.
Because as I always say, nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.
Finding Relief in Bodywork
The other consideration to keep in mind if you experience migraines, is the value of bodywork.
Food isn’t the only trigger for migraines.
That’s just the beginning.
One of the other common triggers can be muscular tension, especially in the head and neck.
So if you tend to carry a lot of tension in your neck, shoulders and even your back, it could be a good option to explore.
There are countless bodyworkers that you could consider.
It’s really a personal preference.
Some people love massage, others swear by chiropractors or acupuncturists, and then the next person might tell you that cranial sacral therapy gives the best relief.
And just many treatment options, there are even more practitioners within each field. So one massage therapist may be more helpful for you than another.
My point is that there are lots of options here.
And I know that the greatest concern here is cost.
These treatments are rarely covered by insurance so that means that they’re coming directly out of your pocket, which isn’t always possible.
If that’s the case, check with your insurance to see what is available.
You may have some physical therapy sessions that you could get recommended stretches to relieve tight muscles.
Or you may have some coverage for chiropractic care, that’s starting to be more common now.
So you may have more options available to you than you think.
Now, I’m curious to know, do you experience migraines? If so, share below what helps you to best manage them.