Link between migraines and rheumatoid arthritis

Share on PinterestWomen are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and migraines. Tommaso Tuzj / Stocksy United

  • Researchers say there appears to be a twofold link between rheumatoid arthritis and migraines.
  • They say people with migraines are more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis, and people with this type of arthritis are more likely to develop migraines.
  • They say women are at higher risk for RA and migraines and recommend getting screened for both conditions more often.

A new study confirms a painful truth many people with rheumatoid arthritis have already suspected:

There is an obvious two-way relationship between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and migraines.

What does “bidirectional” mean exactly? Put simply, researchers say these study results showed that people with migraines were more likely to develop this type of arthritis. On the flip side, people with RA are also more likely to develop migraines.

Migraines are debilitating illnesses. The World Health Organization notes that migraines and tension headaches “are of public health concern as they are responsible for high levels of disability and illness in the population”.

Arthritis in general is the leading cause of incapacity for work in the United States. RA can lead to reduced wages and, like chronic migraines, affect both life expectancy and quality of life. It can affect not only the joints, but many organs and body systems.

Navigating both RA and migraines can be difficult.

As with RA, migraines have an unknown underlying cause, but they are influenced by a number of factors including the immune system, inflammation, the environment, lifestyle, and genetics.

The latest study is one of only a few that actually examines the two-way connections and similarities between migraines and RA.

Some of this previous research has shown or suggested that a common mechanism, including inflammatory processes and immune responses, may be responsible for the association between these conditions. Poor quality sleep, obesity, and smoking can make them worse.

There are still many unknowns, however, and not all of these processes or similarities are understood.

“Based on the common pathophysiological mechanisms of inflammation, vascular endothelial cells and the immune system between migraines and RA, we hypothesized that there might be a bidirectional relationship between migraines and RA,” the researchers write in this new study.

Dr. Romie Mushtaq, founder of the brainSHIFT Institute and chief wellness officer at Evolution Hospitality, told Healthline that “Rheumatoid arthritis is an example of an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body, not just joints.”

“There was a previous correlation with known RA patients who had more frequent migraine headaches, presumably due to brain vasculitis,” she added. “Monitoring the RA exacerbation would be as important as treating the migraines.”

Mushtaq recommends more screening for migraines and RA, especially in women.

“As a neurologist specializing in integrative medicine, it would be important to consider screening female migraineurs for symptoms and doing laboratory tests to diagnose underlying rheumatoid arthritis.

“The exact underlying pathology or cause of migraine headaches is not clear, but has long been attributed to inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain. What causes inflammation? Autoimmune diseases like RA are a known etiology (cause), ”Mushtaq said.

Sex could also play a role. The researchers added that RA in men over 60 does not necessarily correlate with an increased risk of migraines.

However, this may be because migraines are more common in women and between the ages of 25 and 55. RA is also more common in women.

“This study is different because we now also see that women with migraines are more prone to RA than women without migraines. The same correlation was not seen in men, ”Mushtaq said.

“This clinical study is important to ensure that women are screened for autoimmune diseases in the neurologist’s office. And in the rheumatologist’s office, it is important to check for migraine headaches.

“Migraine headaches are still underdiagnosed, especially in women. This clinical study adds an extra highlight to women’s brain health by showing the importance of diagnosing migraines compared to other types of headaches, “she said.

For people living with RA and migraines, the connection between the two conditions makes sense.

“I have RA. I have migraines, ”Sam R., 57, an Arkansas resident, told Healthline. “If either of them plays, it’s bad. When both play, it is almost unbearable. I can’t function. My migraines were older than my RA, but when I hear from people who have both, I am not surprised. ”

Toya N., a Pennsylvania resident, has a similar story.

“I’ve had chronic migraines since childhood and was only recently diagnosed with rheumatism [arthritis]“She told Healthline. “My mother had both too, so I was always curious to see if something genetic was going on, and I think it is.”

No drug is approved to treat the combination of RA and migraines, but the class of drugs known as biologics can be used to treat any individual drug.