Everyone suffers a headache at one time or another. A long commute, an argument with your teenaged son, and even too much coffee can trigger a headache. But people who have fibromyalgia may be more vulnerable to headaches than the average person. Experts estimate that approximately 50 percent of people with fibromyalgia suffer from recurrent migraine or tension headaches. Chronic headaches of any kind can be disruptive and interfere with daily activities.
Causes and Effects
Numerous factors can trigger a headache. Certain foods, odors, your period, and the weather can all set off that throbbing ache. So can difficult emotions, such as stress, depression, anxiety, disappointment, and frustration. Myofascial trigger points are another activator, as are certain habits, including too much time in front of a computer, sleeping in an awkward position, and consuming too much caffeine.
Some headaches are more debilitating than others. Many people with fibromyalgia suffer from migraine headaches, an intense throbbing pain that often occurs on one side of the head. Migraines can also bring on muscle tenderness, fatigue, mood changes, and nausea and vomiting. The severity of a migraine varies, as does the event that triggers it. Some people become sensitive to light and sound when they're having a migraine.
A survey by the National Headache Foundation found that most migraine sufferers don't take advantage of preventive strategies to relieve their pain. The poll found that only 20 percent of migraine sufferers use preventive medications. Experts believe that using therapies to prevent migraines can reduce their incidence by as much as 80 percent.
Some experts believe that migraines and fibromyalgia belong to a group of disorders involving a malfunction of the brain's pain center. The two conditions share similar symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance. Often, if a treatment relieves migraines, you may find that it improves fibromyalgia symptoms, too.
Of course, not all fibromyalgia sufferers have migraines. Some simply have tension headaches, which are more common. Tension headaches are generally the result of tight muscles in the neck or shoulders, which may come from holding your head in one position for too long. Unlike migraines, tension headaches are constant, not throbbing. They generally don't make you sensitive to light or noise.
Occasional tension headaches may be relieved with an over-the-counter remedy such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. But if your headaches are painful and become chronic, you should talk to your doctor about more targeted treatment options. People who experience migraines have several medication options. You can take drugs that prevent migraines, relieve the pain of an attack, or sometimes, both. Drugs that provide relief include antidepressants, antiepileptics, pain medications, and triptans, a newer class of medications that narrow blood vessels and balance brain chemicals. Some doctors may prescribe a combination of caffeine and ergotamine, a drug that reduces pain by narrowing the blood vessels. Some people may find relief through alternative methods such as biofeedback.
But you can also practice some self-care strategies. Be on the lookout for events that trigger a headache and try to avoid them. Eat a healthy diet, quit smoking, and reduce your alcohol intake. During a headache, you can try to self-treat with these suggestions from the National Headache Foundation:
Try breathing deeply and slowly from your diaphragm.
Take a warm shower or bath.
Apply ice or heat to the part of your head that hurts.
Consider massage, which helps you relax and relieves stress.
Most of us reach for an analgesic like acetaminophen or aspirin at the first sign of a headache. But used daily, or almost daily, analgesics can make matters worse by causing rebound headaches. Quitting analgesics after extended use may only worsen the symptoms for three to five days. After that, you should notice an improvement. So while analgesics may temporarily reduce headache pain, be wary of overuse.