Migraine and Trigeminal Neuralgia – Is There a Link?

As you’ll know, I often write about trigeminal neuralgia. But my life has also been blighted by migraines since I was in my early teenage years. I will write more about my own migraines next week, but it’s always interested me that many people in trigeminal neuralgia support groups also suffer from migraine. This has led me to wonder if these two extremely painful and debilitating conditions could be linked.

It is thought that six million people in the UK suffer from migraines with more women suffering than men. According to the NHS in the UK, they affect 1 in 5 women compared to 1 in 15 men. Likewise, trigeminal neuralgia affects more women than men, however, it is a much rarer condition.

Click here to learn more about Trigeminal Neuralgia

Migraine and trigeminal neuralgia, is there a link. Picture of a blank face with a hazardous warning sign.

What is a Migraine?

Migraines are not just headaches. They can be one of the worst types of pain to experience. Migraines are extremely painful, throbbing headaches which are normally felt on one side of the head. If the migraine is long-lasting, the pain can often swap sides.

A migraine can last from a few hours to a few days. Some people may have a migraine only very occasionally, but others may suffer from regular attacks. In some cases, they suffer from chronic migraines meaning that they suffer several times a month.

People can often sense that they’re going to get a migraine prior to it starting. They might have heightened senses and food cravings for as much as a day or two before it begins. They might also have early symptoms such as tiredness, yawning, irritability, low mood, feeling detached, feeling hyper, passing more urine than normal, diarrhoea or neck pain. Keeping a diary can help track those symptoms.

Other Symptoms Which Can Accompany a Migraine

During the migraine, as well as the throbbing headache, sufferers might also have:

  • An aura
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to noise, light and smell
  • Dark or puffy eyes
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Blocked ears
  • Tinnitus

What is a Migraine Aura?

About one in five migraine sufferers experience an aura. It is normally felt about half an hour or so before the headache starts therefore it can serve as a warning so that the person knows to take medication.

Occasionally an aura may cause speech difficulties or muscle numbness or weakness, but most often it causes distorted vision. Bright sparkling zig-zags around a blind spot or blurred vision are most common.

The aura usually lasts for 20 – 30 minutes before the headache starts. But for some people, the aura can last longer or it can come and go throughout the course of the migraine.

In some cases, a person can get the aura without a headache developing. This is called a silent migraine.

A visual aura is disturbing and can be very distressing. It can be seen even when the eyes are closed and for some people, it can appear through the night while asleep and the sufferer wakes with a migraine.

There are simulations of visual aura on Youtube. As a migraine sufferer, I don’t like looking at them because they make me feel as though a migraine is starting, but they can help other people understand what it’s like.

Migraines are not just headaches. Link between migraine and trigeminal neuralgia. Black and white photo of the back of a woman's head looking downwards.

Migraines are Debilitating

Migraines are truly debilitating. Even with medication, people are in agonizing pain and often need to spend time in a darkened, quiet room for hours, possibly days in some cases. But it doesn’t end when the actual migraine ends. Afterwards, many people suffer from a postdrome migraine for several days, feeling exhausted with achy muscles and brain fog.

What Can Cause Migraines?

Migraines can be hereditary, hormone-related or they can be brought on by stress, lack of sleep or hunger.

It was believed that certain foods could trigger a migraine, but this is now thought not to be the case. According to The Walton Centre, an NHS hospital in England which specialises in brain and spine issues, trigger foods rarely exist.

“People often blame certain foods as triggers for their attacks but quite commonly they have those foods in response to these ‘premonitory’ symptoms and therefore the migraine has already started and is not actually caused by that particular food.”

It was also previously thought that a migraine was caused when blood vessels in the head narrowed then became larger but this theory is also now thought not to be the case.

Scientists now believe that a migraine is a disorder affecting the nerves in the brain.

Migraine and trigeminal neuralgia, is there a link? White writing on a teal coloured background.

The Link Between Migraine and the Trigeminal Nerve

The nerve being affected is actually the trigeminal nerve. This is the same nerve which causes facial pain for trigeminal neuralgia sufferers.

The Association of Migraine Disorders writes that migraine is a problem with faulty wiring within the trigeminal nerve.

“Migraine is a problem with faulty wiring. That is, people with migraine illness have a nervous system that is not working normally. It overreacts to stimuli and, when stimulated, there is an unusual wave of brain activity that leads to a headache. Almost all migraine sufferers have a problem with a specific part of the nervous system, called the trigeminal nerve.”

Migraine and Trigeminal Neuralgia – Is There a Link?

Over the past week, I asked some trigeminal neuralgia sufferers to answer a survey so that I could get an idea of how many of them also suffer from migraines. Obviously, this wasn’t a scientific survey, but purely one of interest.

*Edit
So far, as of the 15th of May, 2020, 647 people have responded to my survey, with over 78% saying that they suffer or have suffered from migraines.

I’m not a doctor, but that number seems like a fairly high percentage.

If you have trigeminal neuralgia and haven’t already answered my survey, you can still do so by clicking here and I will update the result on this post in a few days time.

The Cause of Trigeminal Neuralgia is Often Unknown

Many people who suffer from trigeminal neuralgia do not know why. There is no obvious cause for some of us, myself included. Is the faulty wiring which causes migraine the same faulty wiring which causes trigeminal neuralgia? Or is it just a coincidence that so many trigeminal neuralgia sufferers also suffer from migraines?

Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think there could be a link, but I’m not a doctor. I just know that these are two extremely painful, life-changing conditions. And I hope that one day, doctors are able to figure it all out and help people more.

Useful Links

NHS
The Walton Centre
The Association of Migraine Disorders
Frozen Mind & Tone Travels are two other blogs with useful information about migraines
Anna Williams, a TN sufferer, has recently written a post on Migraine.com.

If you suffer from either of these conditions, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Take care and stay safe.

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11 thoughts on “Migraine and Trigeminal Neuralgia – Is There a Link?

  1. Essie

    Hi I do suffer from Facial Migranes! And Trigmenal Neuralgia and there needs to be better services worldwide for sufferers. I do understand things take time…..

    Hoping one day that people/family will have better understanding of what we go through having either one or both of theses debilitating conditions. Hopeful.

    1. Helen White

      Hi,

      I am very interested in this as like you I suffer with TN and migraines. What I find even more interesting is that my migraines started and were troublesome during puberty and then went in my early twenties only to return when I started going through early menopause at 40. Within a couple of years of starting menopause my TN started…. like you say I am no doctor but I do wonder if there is some link. Since having TN my migraines are on another level and will often trigger extremely painful TN attacks. Mine always last 2 days too, guaranteed, I could put money on it.
      There definitely needs to be more research, particularly in TN. As it’s quite rare it doesn’t get the investment and time that is so desperately needed ?
      Thank you for your blog and posts, I really enjoy reading them.

      From a fellow sufferer
      Helen x

  2. Nicola

    Hi

    I’ve been a migraine sufferer since my early 20’s. Usually 1-2 a month. Use to deal with then in a quiet dark room, head compress and sleep. As I’ve got older I learnt to identify when a migraine attack is going to occur and I prepare. If the last 20yrs I have had several TMJ operations which have resulted in facial nerve damage and diagnosed trigeminal neuralgia. Now when I have. Migraine the pain is 10 fold what it use to be. So much so that the pain irradiates down the face into the jaw line. Is disabilitating and something that I now have to live with. A lot of the time my migraines are stress related. Therefore I look at ways to try and keep myself calm, which is not always successful but somewhat manageable.

  3. Carla Reeves

    I can remember as a child (age 7), staying in my dark room for hours with nausea and throbbing pain at least twice a month while living in a aura in between the migraines and during my adult years.
    Finally at the age of 47 I was diagnosed with a benign lemon size skull base tumor at the Trigeminal nerve and undergoing a massive ear to ear craniotomy for removal.
    Today I suffer 24/7 right face Trigeminal neuralgia with anesthesia Dolorosa. Overall I believe the migraines since childhood contributed to the tumor or visa versa. Unfortunately that’s a discussion my neuro-surgeon refuses to discuss.

  4. I’m sure a lot are sadly going to relate to this. I suffer from chronic migraines, getting them on average 3 to 4 per week these days. However, I’ve had them every single day for about 3 weeks now and it’s worn me down considerably, so I’m glad you’ve noted how debilitating they are. Today is the first day without one and I’m celebrating! I don’t have TN so it’s interesting to see the relationship between the two and quite eye opening to think how many people deal with both; I can only imagine how difficult that must be. Excellent post, Liz!
    Caz xx

  5. I always learn a lot from your posts Liz and it’s so good that you’re writing about it and sharing it. I think I’ve had only a handful of migraines over the years so I’m extremely lucky. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is to suffer that level of pain so frequently. Great post as always Liz! x

  6. My understanding is that migraine is hereditary AND can be brought on by stress etc. As in, someone has the gene for it but may have either only had them very infrequently or not at all and then suddenly this changes. Someone without the gene therefore wouldn’t get it -but may get other conditions of course. I think the only exception is a brain injury. I’m saying this and happy to have a discussion – I realise I’m not citing a source at this stage!
    I’d also like to agree with your overall topic for this blog; my (non-biological) uncle has TN and we have found many similarities between his condition and my migraine.

  7. This is so interesting! I haven’t had migraines in a while (mine are/were very connected to my fibromyalgia, which is mostly controlled now) but TN sounds absolutely miserable.

  8. Hi Liz, yes I suffer from both, but ironically both where only diagnosed at my MS diagnosis but I have had migraine for years, just been dismissed, the only difference now is the Aura can last half an day rather than the 10 minutes it used to xx

  9. Melissa

    I rarely have headaches but have all the other symptoms of chronic migraines. Almost daily, I have fatigue that makes movement challenging and weak muscles, I feel low and off – something doesn’t feel right in my head. While this is occurring there’s electricity shooting into my chin or near my ears. This is the first website that connects migraines to TN. I don’t have Trigeminal Neuralgia. My father had that. It made a grown man cry, but I do have an irritated Trigeminal nerve if I have electricity shooting into my face and my conclusion is that it’s triggered by silent migraines. As my symptoms are very unusual – arguably unique, I’m trying to find research that would connect the two.

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