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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • JimI
    5 months ago

    Yes, I have both as well.

  • Debbie998
    6 months ago

    my migraines began when I was 13 and was diagnosed wit RA at 49
    I had no idea there was a link between the two until I read this article.i was also diagnosed with high blood pressure at 18.

  • AmishCake
    6 months ago

    I have both and never knew there was a link!

  • adkrauss
    6 months ago

    Thanks for this article and for all you do. Besides educating, it is comforting to know there are others sharing my struggle. On that note, I have RA and chronic migraine and neither my neuro or my rheumatologist ever suggested a link and it is the first I am hearing of it. I will however, read further on the issue.

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    5 months ago

    I’m sorry you’re living with both illnesses, but I’m glad you found the article informative. I believe knowledge is key to living well with any condition/disease. Thank you for commenting.

  • Crystal.Harper
    6 months ago

    Thanks for sharing this information! This is one of those important topics that some may not even think to ask about so it’s important to shed light on. I wish you had someone to share this info with you so you could have known what to look out for but I hope you take some comfort in knowing that you may be drastically affecting someone else in the most positive way.

    Sending positive vibes your way!

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    6 months ago

    Thank you for your kind words, Crystal. Those are my thoughts too. I think anytime we can shed new light on how migraine disease affects those of us living with it, then we’re making a difference in someone’s life. I appreciate the support and the feedback!

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