Someone holding their head because they are in a lot of pain from a headache.
Research shows that people who have fibromyalgia are more likely to experience chronic headaches.

Fibromyalgia Headaches: How to Prevent Them

Fibromyalgia and headaches are both conditions that can cause a person pain and distress, as well as seriously interfering with many different aspects of life. In this article, we will look at the link between fibromyalgia and headaches, and what this means for anyone suffering from these two debilitating conditions.

The Relationship Between Fibromyalgia and Headaches

There appears to be some overlap between the fibromyalgia and headaches, with up to 36% of chronic headache patients eventually being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and as many as 76% of fibromyalgia patients also being affected by recurring headaches.

There are some common features between fibromyalgia and headaches, especially migraines. Both fibromyalgia and migraines most frequently affect women aged between 20 and 50 years, and both are often associated with an increased risk of depression. In fact, some antidepressants can be used to relieve the symptoms of both fibromyalgia and migraines, suggesting they may both have a similar underlying cause.

People with fibromyalgia or migraines may have increased activity in their central nervous systems. This can lead to overstimulation and heightened levels of pain. Both disorders have also been linked to low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which plays a role in regulating mood, appetite and sleep, among many other things.

However, it is not only migraines which may be associated with fibromyalgia. One of the most common problems for fibromyalgia sufferers is tension headaches which affect around 59% of patients with the condition.

People who suffer from fibromyalgia and headaches are also more likely to suffer from other problems such as sleep disturbances, anxiety and scalp tenderness, especially around the forehead or temples.

Causes of Fibromyalgia Headaches

People with fibromyalgia suffer from widespread pain which affects many different areas of the body. One of the most common areas includes the upper back, neck and shoulders. The muscles in this area can often become tense and tight, and may even feel tender to the touch.

Because these muscles are so close to the head, pain and tension here can easily spread to the scalp and cause tension headaches. Tension headaches usually affect the forehead and temples, creating a feeling of tight, band-like pressure in this area. However, they can also affect the base of the skull, neck and upper back.

Another possible cause of headaches in people with fibromyalgia is an imbalance between the neurotransmitter serotonin and another chemical known as substance P. This imbalance is thought to make fibromyalgia sufferers more sensitive, meaning that things that would not usually be uncomfortable can cause extreme pain. Fibromyalgia patients may also be more sensitive to light, sounds and changes in temperature, all of which could potentially trigger a headache.

Finally, people with fibromyalgia often suffer from sleep problems, and lack of sleep can cause both fatigue and headaches. This is something many people will have experienced at some point during their lives, but can be a daily occurrence if you have fibromyalgia.

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Coping With Fibromyalgia and Headaches

Many of the medications used to treat fibromyalgia are also useful for relieving headaches. These include anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers and certain antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil). However, many people would prefer to avoid taking these medications due to unwanted side effects and the risk of addiction to strong painkillers.

Luckily, there are different options available to help with the symptoms of both conditions simultaneously. Therapies such as acupuncture and massage can help to relax the muscles and relieve tension and pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular talking therapy which can aid you in developing strategies to deal with pain and other symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.

Some people also find techniques, such as mindful breathing and meditation helpful for living with pain and making symptoms like headaches easier to handle. These techniques are also very relaxing and may help to reduce stress and improve sleeping patterns.

All of these options may help reduce the frequency and severity headaches, or at least make them easier to bear. Other methods for relieving headaches when they do occur include placing a cool, damp cloth on your forehead, or applying a cream containing soothing menthol. Although it may be frustrating, sometimes the only option is to lie down in a dark, quiet room and sleep it off.

Tips for Preventing Headaches With Fibromyalgia

Prevention is always better than cure, so if you suffer from fibromyalgia and headaches, what can you do to stop them from happening in the first place?

Identify the Triggers

The first step is to try and identify your headache or migraine triggers. You can do this by keeping a journal and noting down what you have done, eaten and drunk each time you have a headache. If you start to see a pattern emerging, try cutting out whatever you think your triggers may be and see whether that helps.

Rid Yourself of Stress

Some of the most common triggers for headaches are tiredness and stress. Try to maintain good sleeping habits by keeping a regular bedtime, making your bedroom calm and comfortable, and getting up around the same time each day, even at weekends. Avoid eating large meals or drinking caffeinated drinks or alcohol in the evening as these can all interfere with a good night’s sleep. Looking at electronic screens late at night can also make it harder to fall asleep as they reduce the production of melatonin, the hormone which is responsible for making you sleepy.

Keep your stress levels to a minimum by practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. Regular, gentle exercise can also help to reduce stress, benefit your sleep and help to ease aches and pains.

Visit an Optician

Ensure that you eat at regular intervals and stay well hydrated throughout the day. You should also see an optician every one to two years to make sure that an eye problem is not at the root of your headaches.