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Headache/Migraine in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A Complicated Relationship


Updated June 13, 2014

Headache/Migraine in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A lot of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome also have headaches and/or migraines. We know that for a fact, and it looks like we're starting to understand why.

The relationship between these disorders is complicated. They frequently overlap; headache and migraine are considered risk factors for fibromyalgia, and they're also among the symptoms considered under the newer, alternative diagnostic criteria; a change in headache frequency or severity is part of the chronic fatigue syndrome diagnostic criteria; many researchers believe central sensitization is part of all four conditions.

New research published in The Journal of Headache and Pain even suggests that people with chronic migraines and chronic tension headaches who also have anxiety, sleep disturbance, and pericranial tenderness (pain on the outside of the head) are especially likely to develop fibromyalgia.

Central Sensitization

The role of central is believed to be significant in all of these conditions. The "central" part means central nervous system, which encompasses the brain and the nerves of the spinal column. "Sensitization" means the area has become especially sensitive. Our central nervous systems have been conditioned -- either over time or due to trauma/illness -- to have an extreme reaction to certain stimuli, which can include:

Our central nervous systems amplify pain signals (called hyperalgisia), turn harmless stimuli in pain (allodynia), and over react to other things in our environments in a way that amps up a host of symptoms.

The concept of central sensitization is becoming fairly accepted in research, but the medical community as a whole is not well educated on it. I actually had to explain it to my massage therapist, who treats a fair amount of people with fibromyalgia! I have to think that knowledge of it will grow in the coming years, however, since it's been linked to headache, migraine and possibly the most widely accepted pain condition out there -- osteoarthritis.

I think a lot research potential stems from central sensitization. Because of this common underlying mechanism, advancements made for any one of these illnesses may help the others.

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