Chronic migraine risk is twice as high among asthma patients, a recent study published in the journal Headache has shown.
Starting from 2008, experts at the University of Cincinnati carried out an analysis on 4,446 participants (with the average age of 50.4%) who had experienced fewer than 15 headache days per month in 2008.
In medical terms, this is known as episodic migraine and researchers wanted to determine if those who suffered from asthma were more at risk of developing more severe headaches, given that in both cases there is inflammation.
Moreover, another thing in common is that the smooth muscle’s function is perturbed, whether it’s the one from the airways or the one around blood vessels.
According to Richard Lipton, director at the Montefiore Headache Center, the hypothesis of the research was that inflammation resulting from asthma may worsen migraines or make them more frequent.
A questionnaire was applied on all the subjects, and after data was aggregated two groups of participants were created: one with asthma, and one suffering solely from episodic migraines.
A follow-up study was conducted in 2009, and, as before, the participants were asked about how often they experienced headaches and what medication they had been prescribed. They also had to answer questions assessing their mental health (so as to identify signs of depression) and their cigarette use.
Following the first questionnaire, it was discovered that 17% of the respondents had been affected by asthma. By the time the second survey was administered, 2.9% of the participants had been experiencing chronic migraines (more than 15 headaches on a monthly basis, over the course of 3 months).
Moreover, it was determined that the likelihood of developing this condition was more than twice as high among asthma patients (5.4%), than among those who hadn’t been affected by asthma (2.5%).
In fact, having asthma was proven to be more strongly correlated with chronic migraine than depression, which had been previously considered as one of the most accurate predictors for this condition.
Researchers believe that a possible explanation why asthma and migraine tend to coexist is related to the parasympathetic nervous system, whose role is to restore the body, influencing immunity as well as the activity of organs such as the pancreas, intestines, liver and stomach.
An excessively responsive parasympathetic nervous system has been associated with asthma, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, migraines etc.
Another theory proposed by study author Vincent Martin, professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati, is that headaches and asthma may actually have a stimulus in the environment as a driving force, such as excessive air pollution or another type of allergen.
Moreover, there might be also some genetic predisposition which causes some individuals to be more prone to suffering from both conditions.
Overall, the findings are important, given around 7% of the U.S. population is affected by asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, approximately 12% of Americans suffer from migraines, which are around 3 times more prevalent among females than males, as estimated by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Being aware of the heightened risk of developing recurrent, debilitating headaches might allow asthma patients who experience occasional migraines to take more potent medication and other pre-emptive steps so as to keep in their condition in check, before it degenerates even further.
Chronic migraine can leave individuals so incapacitated that they are forced to frequently miss school or to take time off from work, due to crippling pain.
Moreover, this condition has also been proven to halve productivity, and to drastically affect the quality of life, by causing sufferers to feel overwhelmed, hopeless and depressed.
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