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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.