A person with a headache considers a suspect lineup of several monsters.

Does MS Cause Headaches?

Last updated: August 2022

I’ve always tried not to rush to blame multiple sclerosis (MS) for every little health-related ailment in my life. Just because someone has MS or some other chronic illness doesn’t mean that they can’t get sick like everyone else. It doesn’t mean that they are immune to developing other illnesses, be them chronic, terminal, or just a seasonal bug. The universe doesn’t say, “This year, we are handing out this shiny, new illness to random people around the world, but Matt already has MS, so we’ll give him a pass on this one. He has enough on his plate.”

I've struggled with depression for years

For example, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve struggled with clinical depression since my late teens. Until more recently, I never even thought that it could be related to my MS. I always saw it as separate; I was just someone who had depression and who just so happened to also get MS. It was just a coincidence (something I rarely believe in). Similarly, since my mid-teens, I’ve always suffered from constant headaches. While they more often took the form of migraines when I was younger, they are still very frequent and can get pretty intense to this day.

Nausea with light and sound sensitivity

Now, when it comes to migraines, I never experienced the whole “aura” bit, but a sudden onset of nausea, light sensitivity, and/or sound sensitivity was all too common. It finally got to the point where I had to see a doctor about it who prescribed me a migraine medication since the over-the-counter stuff either didn’t work for me or, for some reason, made everything worse! Especially the nausea!

Experiencing different types of headaches

Over time, the migraines became less frequent, but a variety of other types of headaches (such as tension and cluster headaches) became more frequent. Sometimes my headaches will last for days at a time! It’s not at all unusual for me to wake up with a headache and go to bed with the same one.

Difficulty identifying triggers

I’ve never been able to identify a possible trigger. It seems to be completely random, with one exception. I have no idea why this is, but if I sleep too long, I almost always wake up with a headache. This is probably my number one reason for wanting coffee as soon as I wake up; the caffeine tends to help reduce the pain.

No rhyme or reason

Of course, maybe it has nothing to do with how long I sleep, but some other factor that just so happens to occur during the night? Perhaps it has to do with not drinking water for so long? The position of my head and neck? Barometric pressure? Tiny headache-gremlins crawling out from under my bed to explore my room while I sleep? Who knows? Each possibility, no matter how farfetched it may be, seems equally likely, which is just another way of saying, there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason for why this is.

A study about headaches and MS

Well, recently I’ve started noticing more articles and chatter on social media about people with MS experiencing headaches as a result of their MS. At first, I just assumed they were doing what I have always tried so hard not to do: blaming MS for something that had nothing to do with MS. But then I read an article that someone posted on Twitter that talked about headaches being a possible symptom of MS. This article cited a 2017 abstract that addressed this exact issue and concluded that “Headaches were prevalent in 78% of patients in our population with newly diagnosed CIS and MS. It is among the highest prevalence rates reported so far in patients with CIS or MS. Thus, headache, especially of a migraneous subtype, is a frequent symptom within the scope of the first manifestation of multiple sclerosis.”1

Maybe my headaches are related to MS

As I read about it more, I slowly moved from thinking that this had nothing to do with MS to thinking that it very well could. Maybe the way MS affects the brain and the neurological pathways within it can cause headaches to occur more frequently than they do in the general population? Maybe headaches are some sort of secondary symptom like how insomnia can be the result of constantly having to get up to use the restroom throughout the night? Or perhaps these headaches and MS simply share a common trigger, like diet? Maybe the food that 78% of people with MS eat triggers an inflammatory response that not only results in disease activity but also headaches?

Learning more as research digs deeper

I have no idea what could cause this. I’m still not even totally convinced that my frequent headaches are even related to my MS. I just know that I can’t prove that they aren’t, so to me, it’s still only just a possibility. Obviously, this is something that we need more research on. But the study mentioned above said that “Headaches were prevalent in 78% of patients” - isn’t that proof enough? Well, no, not really. Because for context, that study only recruited 50 patients. So, in my humble opinion, all that study did was warrant further investigation. Either way, I’m very interested to learn more as research, hopefully, continues to dig deeper into this.

Do you experience frequent headaches?

What about you? Are headaches a common occurrence in your life? Have you always thought (or suspected) that they were due to MS? Have you noticed any kind of pattern? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

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