Migraine and Celiac

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A migraine is a disabling headache that can be preceded or accompanies by a sensory warning sign—flashes of light, blind spots or arm or leg tingling. The exact cause of migraines is not well known but is believed to be partly related to the trigeminal nerve system and chemical imbalances in the brain.

Rarely children can have “abdominal” migraines with all of the typical migraine symptoms but without any headache. Pain might be felt in the stomach.

What is the Relationship between Celiac Disease and Migraines?
A preliminary study in 2003 found that migraine sufferers have a higher risk of having celiac disease that the general population. Patients who have undiagnosed celiac disease and migraine headaches often see either complete resolution of migraine headaches of a significant reduction in frequency and strength of symptoms.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Moderate to severe pain, can be on one side of the head or both sides, that lasts from 4-72 hours
  • Head pain with throbbing or pulsating sensations
  • Pain that worsens with physical activity
  • Pain that interferes with regular activities
  • Nausea with, or without, vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Feelings of elation, cravings for sweets, thirst, drowsiness or irritability before headache strikes
  • Possible aura preceding or accompanying headache
    • Seeing sparkling flashes of light or dazzling zigzag lines
    • Slowly spreading blind spots in vision
    • Feeling of tingling, pins and needles sensations in one arm or leg
    • Rarely, physical weakness of language and speech problems can occur

Who Gets Migraines?
Up to 18% of all women and 6% of men get migraine headaches in the general population. Those with a family history of migraines are more likely to develop migraines at any point during their life. Women are also three times more likely than men to have migraines. Migraines are equally common in male and female children until puberty occurs, then it girls are more likely to experience headaches. In women, migraines are sometimes triggered by hormonal imbalances due to menstruation, pregnancy or menopause. In these women, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are likely to worsen migraine symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Migraines
If you have typical migraine symptoms or a family history of migraines your doctor will likely diagnose you based on your medical history and a physical examination. If your headaches are extremely severe, unusual or sudden your doctor may recommend other testing to rule out other potential causes of migraines. (Such as CT scans, MRI, or spinal tap).

Migraine pain may be relieved by over the counter (OTC) drugs such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin or Excedrin. If these medicines do not work, stronger prescriptions may help, but side effects include nausea and dizziness. Pain relieving drugs are most effective for migraines if they are taken as soon as symptoms begin and not after a full-fledged migraine has presented itself. In some cases preventative medication may be prescribed to your doctor that is taken on a regular basis, not just before a migraine attack. These medications work to reduce the frequency severity and length of migraines but will not completely prevent them from occurring.

For those with undiagnosed celiac disease, migraines pain and frequency is often alleviated after a gluten-free diet is maintained. If you experience frequent migraines without any trigger or cause you should ask your doctor to test for celiac disease.

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