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Researchers are working to better understand the link between MS and headaches. While the nature of the relationship between headaches and MS is not yet fully clear, people with MS do tend to have more headaches. What’s more, migraine headaches are often the first reported symptom for people with MS.

If you or someone you care about are experiencing headaches that impact your day-to-day life, speak to your GP (general practitioner) or neurologist. They can help you find answers and manage your symptoms.

MS and headaches

MS and headaches are two conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as vision problems, fatigue, pain or tingling. Some of the triggers for migraines and MS relapses are also the same, such as stress, medications and damage to the brain. If you’re worried you’re having a relapse, speak to our MS nurses or your healthcare team.

While researchers work to better understand the link between MS and headaches, existing research suggests a relationship.

According to some studies and reports:

  • Migraine headaches are twice as common in people with MS.
  • One third of people diagnosed with MS had a previous migraine diagnosis.
  • Twenty percent of a sample group of people with MS had a family history of migraines, compared to 10% in people without MS.

Types of MS headaches

There are many types of headaches that people with MS may experience. If you have MS, it’s more likely you have one of the following types of headaches: migraines, cluster headaches or tension headaches.

Migraines are characterised by acute throbbing or pulsing pain in the head. It can also cause sensitivity to light and bring on feelings of nausea.

Migraines are common for many people and aren’t restricted to those living with MS. Both migraines and MS are neurological conditions (which means they impact your nervous system). Both migraines and MS can create lesions in the brain that can appear in MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans. With both MS and migraines, they may be chronic or come on in attacks or relapses.

While it’s not believed that MS causes migraines directly, there may be a relationship. For example, MS lesions or damage in the brain from MS can cause migraines. For some people, MS medication could also be a trigger for migraines.

A cluster headache is a painful headache that starts suddenly and occurs in one spot (or cluster). For example, this could be around the eye or side of your head. They can either be chronic or come on in episodes. Cluster headaches can cause visual disturbances, such as flashes of light.

They are caused by your blood vessels widening, which supplies blood to your brain and face. This widening or dilation puts pressure on a nerve, triggering this painful sensation.

Cluster headaches can be more common in younger people or those in the earlier stages of MS.

Tension headaches cause pain behind the eyes and in the head and neck, which can be mild, moderate or severe. It could feel like a dull head pain, with pressure or tenderness in and around the forehead.

Unlike migraines, tension headaches don’t tend to cause nausea nor vomiting. Milder tension headaches tend to be more common in people who have had MS for many years.

Managing headaches

If you experience headaches and have MS, you can prevent or reduce their intensity by looking at some of the underlying triggers. This could include stress, fatigue, anxiety and spicy or salty foods. Your doctor may also refer you to therapy or counselling for help managing emotions and stress.

You can also make some healthy lifestyle changes, including:

  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • drinking lots of water
  • exercising regularly
  • reducing stress with yoga, time in the outdoors or meditation
  • getting a good night’s sleep
  • avoiding caffeine and excessive screen time
  • relaxing your neck with stretches and a warm compress.

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