Migraine Patients May Be at Increased Risk of Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Headache is a common symptom of many autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Whether that’s from the disease activity itself, the medications used to treat the disease, or a combination of both remains a topic for debate. However, head pain as a symptom of autoimmune activity is not the only link between the two. It turns out, there may be an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis in those of us living with migraine.

An increased risk of developing RA

A population-based, propensity score-matched cohort study compared two groups of 58,749 subjects to investigate whether this was the case. During the study’s follow-up period, 461 subjects in the migraine group developed rheumatoid arthritis compared to 220 subjects in the propensity score-matched, randomly sampled non-migraine group. This suggests a statistically significant increased risk of developing RA in patients with migraine compared to controls.

While this was the first longitudinal study I’ve seen about the link between migraine and rheumatoid arthritis, it certainly isn’t the first study to suggest an association between the two diseases. In fact, migraine is commonly associated with many autoimmune conditions. Unfortunately, living with migraine is tough enough without comorbid conditions. With them, it’s even harder.

Dual diagnoses

I was diagnosed with chronic migraine with aura in 2008. Ten years later, I received a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis (among other autoimmune diseases). Having both diseases is a challenge, especially as many drugs for RA can impact or exacerbate migraine.

When I was taking methotrexate for my RA, for instance, I knew within weeks of starting the drug to expect a severe migraine 48 hours after my weekly dose. The attacks came at the exact same time every week for months (lasting a full day) until the medicine finally built up in my system enough to start working for my RA. At that time, for reasons unknown, the methotrexate stopped triggering the attacks so consistently. And, when the attacks did come, they weren’t quite as severe. That is until we increased the dosage of my methotrexate, at which point the cycle started again.

Exploring options

Had the severe attacks not lessened, I would have asked my rheumatologist for another option. While headache is listed as a common or potential side effect on almost every medication I’ve reviewed for the treatment of my autoimmune diseases, that doesn’t mean the medications necessarily would exacerbate my migraine disease. We’re all different. That is part of what makes it essential to explore treatment options with our doctors until we find something that works for us as individuals.

Monitoring symptoms

While I already know I have Rheumatoid Arthritis in addition to migraine disease, I would have appreciated knowing that I had an increased risk of developing RA prior to its onset. I couldn’t have prevented the disease, but I could have watched for symptoms and gotten into a doctor earlier. With RA, early detection and treatment can make a huge difference in prognosis.

What about you? Do you have RA as well as migraine disease? If so, which disease were you diagnosed with first? Let us know in the comments below.

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