Over my years of writing the Life With Multiple Sclerosis column, I have had many people with MS tell me — in online conversation and in person — that they were experiencing migraine attacks along with their MS symptoms.
Some of these people said they’d experienced migraine attacks most of their lives, while others had only gotten these monster headaches after they started having MS symptoms or were diagnosed with MS.
The topic of migraine is a difficult one for medical science to explain in general, and its link to MS is also unclear.
Even the National MS Society experts have a hard time quantifying MS and headache. According to one video interview created by the society, anywhere from 20 to 70 percent of people with MS experience migraine.
When you look to scientific research, the numbers vary greatly there, too: One study found that people who have MS are more than twice as likely to experience migraine as a control population. Another study found that while the prevalence of migraine among people with MS was higher than in the general population, the experience varied greatly based on the continent on which individuals lived.
My Own Experience With Migraine
I had the occasional migraine attack (maybe three or four) in my pre-MS days. Now, I get them — mostly of the ocular variety — a good few times per year.
In fact, as I began to recover from a nasty cold last weekend, I had a real whopper that laid me out for several hours Sunday and sucked up nearly 14 hours of sleep that night!
If I catch the attacks early, a prescription drug has worked wonders! The thing is, I have these headaches so rarely (relative to my other MS symptoms) that I often forget to have the script refilled. An over-the-counter medication can help me as well, if taken early enough.
Along with the pain of migraine, such symptoms as visual distortion, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, and fatigue are common accompaniments to these headaches.
Noticing the Early Signs Makes a Big Difference
What always catches me by surprise is how I notice the onset of the early parts of a migraine attack in hindsight.
I’ll notice the visual distortion and continue to try to read around it. I can find myself a little annoyed by noises or brightness, and I just move to a quieter or dimmer room.
It’s some kind of a power-through mechanism that I think we all have to one extent or another. A survival mode or something.
But if I don’t heed those early signs and take my medication in time, then the pain begins and I know I’m in for a fight.
Are My Migraine Attacks MS-Related?
Are my occasional humdinger headaches MS-related? I have no idea, but I have to go with something a well-regarded MS doctor once said to me about symptoms: “If you could do something before and you can’t now, it’s probably MS.”
If I used to get the very occasional, episodic headache and now they’ve become enough of a routine that I’m writing about it — it’s probably MS.
Wishing you and your family the best of health.