Asthma Could Mean Chronic Migraines Down the Road

Caitlyn Fitzpatrick

Migraines affect about 12% of the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and another condition could indicate that the painful disorder will become chronic.

Migraines affect about 12% of the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and another condition could indicate that the painful disorder will become chronic.

“If you have asthma along with episodic or occasional migraine, then your headaches are more likely to evolve into a more disabling form known as chronic migraine,” Vincent Martin, MD, lead author of the new analysis, said in a news release.

Episodic migraines are considered up to 14 headaches a month and someone with chronic migraines experiences at least 15. The study derived from researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) looked at 4,446 patients with episodic migraines — 746 of which (17%) had asthma. The cohort’s average age was 50.4 and consisted of 80.8% women (who are nearly three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men).

Using the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS), the team created a Respiratory Symptom Severity Score (RSSS) questionnaire to define asthma on a scale of zero (no severity) to six (high severity). They measured the influence of asthma on chronic migraine after taking into consideration factors such as medication use and headache day frequency, as detailed in Headache.

From 2008 to 2009, 131 patients (2.9%) developed a new onset of chronic migraine — including 40 out of the 746 asthmatic patients (5.4%) and 91 out of 3,700 (2.5%) of patients without asthma.

“In this study, persons with episodic migraine and asthma at baseline were more than twice as likely to develop chronic migraine after one year of follow-up as compared to those with episodic migraine but not asthma,” Martin verified.

Asthma turned out to being even a stronger predictor of chronic migraine than depression — a condition which has shown high correlation with headaches. The answer behind this isn’t clear-cut, but the researchers have some ideas. Patients with asthma are more likely to have allergies, and allergies have been linked to more frequent headaches. It could also be a sign of an overactive parasympathetic nervous system, which is a predisposition of both migraine and asthma.

“Migraine and asthma are disorders that involve inflammation and activation of smooth muscle either in blood vessels or in the airways. Therefore, asthma-related inflammation may lead to migraine progression,” explained one of the authors Richard Lipton, MD.

So how do we stop the occasional migraine from becoming a chronic condition? Martin said that physicians may want to prescribe preventative migraine medications in patients with asthma early in treatment. These findings also present a more extensive question — if allergies trigger asthma, should clinicians focus on treating those symptoms in order to inhibit migraines altogether? It’s fair to say that this isn’t the last we hear about the asthma and migraine connection.

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