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Multiple Sclerosis and Headache

Multiple sclerosis leads to a variety of symptoms in different people.

Some people are more likely to experience certain types of headaches than others while suffering from multiple sclerosis.

A study showed that headaches are the most common discomfort-causing symptom in people with multiple sclerosis.(1)

Headache can occur as an early symptom and also at later stages of the illness and it is not necessary that everyone suffers from it.

Multiple Sclerosis and Headache

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a condition that is found to affect the central nervous system in the body.

In this condition, the immune system affects myelin, the protective layer around nerve fibers. It mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath in some parts of the body. This damages the nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, eyes, and other areas.

Multiple sclerosis leads to inflammation and lesion or scar tissue on the nerves. It slows the signals that are sent between the brain and the rest of the body. This may trigger headaches along with other symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

What Causes Headaches in People with Multiple Sclerosis?

Headache may be an early sign for some suffering from Multiple sclerosis. It is a common cause of pain and discomfort in these people.

A study found individuals with multiple sclerosis with headaches have frequent episodes of it than those without this symptom.(2)

A study found 78% of people with multiple sclerosis reporting pain in the head within the last 4 weeks.(1) Although the types of headaches vary, throbbing and pulsating headaches were common. 30 percent of participants had a sharp pain in the head while 28 percent had dull or tension headache.

The reason why people with multiple sclerosis have headaches is not known. It might be due to some underlying experience.

Some causes of headache can be linked to the following:

  • Lifestyle habits
  • Specific triggers
  • Other health issues

Health issues that can cause headache other than multiple sclerosis are:

  • Dehydration
  • Excess caffeine consumption
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Triggering foods such as monosodium glutamate, aspartame, or high amounts of salt
  • Not eating enough for too long
  • Sleep disorders
  • Stress and anxiety

In a study, people with multiple sclerosis reported severe headaches that became worse during the flare-up of multiple sclerosis. Only a few in this study reported headache as a new symptom after multiple sclerosis diagnosis.(3)

According to a study done in 2016, the headaches could be due to the changes in nerves in the brain and spinal cord.(2)

Also, it could be due to the headache triggers like stress and fatigue that may be heightened in the people with multiple sclerosis that could lead to sharp headache.(3)

Different Types Of Headache Experience by Patients Suffering From Multiple Sclerosis

According to a study, those with multiple sclerosis experience the following headaches:

Migraine is the most common headache seen in those suffering from multiple sclerosis.(1) It can be serious and long-lasting leading to fatigue and worn-out feeling afterward.

Cluster headache is another headache type that is found in those with newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis.

Tension headache is more common in those with multiple sclerosis for many years.

Prevention and Treatment of Headache

Those suffering from multiple sclerosis and headache should try to recognize the triggers and underlying causes. This may help reduce this symptom.

Common triggers such as stress, anxiety, and fatigue, if managed, headache can be reduced.

Health and lifestyle changes can also help in managing the headache. These include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Avoiding screen time
  • Getting a good sleep
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Yoga, meditation and massages
  • Maintaining an active social life

In serious cases, a nerve specialist should be consulted who can help diagnose and treat the pain in the head.

Some over-the-counter and prescription medications for headache include:

Headaches in multiple sclerosis can vary in severity and symptoms. It can be mild tension headache severe migraine pain. You can learn to manage the headache with the following practices:

  • Learning about the triggers
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle
  • Getting the right medical treatment.

It is important to keep a track of the symptoms and talk with the doctor about the headache or any changes in the symptoms.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 20, 2021

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