Research hasn’t shown that migraine causes any other medical conditions. But it's linked to a number of different ailments.
Certain health conditions are more likely to affect people who also get migraine. And some illnesses have symptoms that can mimic those of migraine.
When you have migraines, there are certain other conditions you might be at higher risk for. The links may be stronger if you have aura -- disturbances to your senses that can come before, during, or after a migraine headache. Auras are usually visual and may include flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling in your hands or face.
These conditions include:
Stroke. There’s little evidence that a migraine will trigger a stroke or that both will hit at the same time. Still, the chance of a stroke is higher in some people who have migraine, such as:
- Those who have aura
- People under 45
After 50, your odds of having a stroke from a migraine fall a great deal.
It’s also possible for the symptoms of stroke, like intense headache and vomiting, to be mistaken for those of a migraine. Types of migraines that mimic stroke include those with aura and thunderclap migraines (headaches that strike suddenly).
One way to tell them apart is that migraine headaches usually build up over time. But stroke symptoms are sudden. The three major signs of stroke are:
- Your face droops or goes numb on one side.
- One of your arms is weak or numb.
- You can’t talk or your words aren’t clear.
If you suspect a stroke, get medical help at once.
Heart disease. Men with migraine are more likely to have heart disease and heart attacks. Women with migraine also have a higher chance of heart disease, especially if they have aura. How often you get migraines doesn't appear to affect your risk of having these conditions.
High blood pressure. Studies have yet to find a solid link between high blood pressure and migraine. But there is evidence that high blood pressure may make you have those types of headaches more often.
Seizures. If you get migraines, you’re at least twice as likely to have seizures. You may get a bad headache before or after an epileptic seizure. Researchers believe seizures may share some genes with migraines.
Some symptoms of migraine aura can look like a seizure, including vision problems, nausea, and uncontrolled movements. But during a seizure, you could be confused, feel depressed or fearful, or even lose consciousness. Seizures usually last 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Migraine aura, though, can last up to an hour.
Hearing problems. Migraines make you more likely to get sudden hearing loss. That's an unexplained loss of hearing that happens rapidly over a few days. It’s extremely rare. But people who get migraines develop sudden hearing loss twice as often as those who don’t.
Fibromyalgia. This syndrome causes chronic pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. Migraine is common in people with fibromyalgia. Still, there’s no evidence that having migraine makes you more likely to get it.
Depression and anxiety. Migraine is common in people who have anxiety. If you have both migraine and anxiety, you're also more likely to have depression. Some research suggests that aura makes anxiety and depression more likely. But we need more studies on this.
PTSD. If you have migraine, you may be more likely to have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One study found the likelihood of having PTSD is five times higher if you have migraine.
Preterm birth. Some small studies suggest that migraine slightly raises the risk for problems like low birth weight, preterm birth, and preeclampsia during pregnancy and childbirth. Researchers are still studying these issues.
More generally, migraine symptoms can worsen with pregnancy and may require a different treatment approach. That’s why doctors suggest that anyone with migraine talk to a headache specialist before they get pregnant.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Some research has found that people with migraine are more than four times likely than others to also have IBS. The reason for the connection isn’t clear. But researchers think it could be because both conditions involve problems with the brain chemical serotonin.
Restless legs syndrome. Scientists also aren’t sure why those with migraine are more prone to restless legs syndrome (RLS). With RLS, you have strong urges to move your legs while lying down. This can cause sleep loss, which is a migraine trigger. Both conditions are also linked to issues with dopamine, a chemical “messenger” in your nervous system.
Asthma. People with asthma are 1.5 times more likely to develop migraine than others, according to some research. One link may be inflammation, which is thought to underlie both conditions.
Insomnia. Those with migraine are two to eight times more likely than others to have sleep disorders. What’s the connection? Poor sleep can contribute to migraine headaches. In turn, migraines may disrupt sleep patterns. The pain might keep you up at night. Or it might cause you to sleep during the daytime, interfering with your sleep schedule.
Conditions That Can Look Like Migraine
Certain other conditions, including serious ones like stroke or seizures, may have some of the same symptoms as migraine. Other potential migraine mimics include:
Other types of headaches. Here are how symptoms of two common types of headaches may differ from migraine:
- Tension headache. People with migraines can get this kind, too. But the pain often feels different. It's usually a dull ache, while migraine pain often throbs or pulses. With a tension headache, your forehead, or the sides and back of your head, may feel tight. It may not get worse when you move. And it doesn’t usually cause stomach problems or affect your vision like a migraine can.
- Sinus headache. With a sinus headache, you often have a stuffy nose and feel pain or pressure in your face or forehead. A migraine can cause these symptoms, too. But it usually brings throbbing pain, while sinus headache pain is dull and constant. Sinus headaches may also cause a fever, trouble smelling, or bad breath. Migraines don’t have these symptoms.
Brain aneurysm. This happens when part of a blood vessel in your brain bulges. If the vessel leaks or breaks, blood can get into your brain. This is called a hemorrhagic stroke, and it's dangerous.
Some symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm are similar to migraine: headache, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. A major difference between symptoms of the two conditions is how quickly they happen and how intense the pain is. A migraine headache is painful. But head pain from a ruptured brain aneurysm comes out of nowhere and is the worst you’ve ever felt.
Get medical help immediately if you think you or someone around you has an aneurysm.
Brain tumor. Brain tumors can cause headaches. But their pattern tends to change more over time than that of migraines. With a brain tumor, your headache might be worse when you wake up and weaken during the day. Other symptoms also show up when you have a brain tumor. Your mood may go down, your mind may be less sharp, and you may have personality changes. You might have weakness or seizures.
Meningitis. This infection can cause an intense headache. You might feel nauseous and throw up. Your neck might be stiff, and light could bother you. But meningitis often brings flu-like symptoms. You likely have a high fever, which isn’t common with migraine. And with migraine, you often feel neck stiffness before your headache starts.
If you suspect you or someone around you could have meningitis, seek medical help right away.
Glaucoma. Certain types of glaucoma cause a headache when the pressure inside your eye increases quickly. As with migraine, your head hurts, you feel queasy, and you may have blurry vision. But you may also have red eyes and extreme eye pain, which aren’t symptoms of migraine. Get immediate medical care if you think you have this.
Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome. This narrowing of the brain arteries most often affects women ages 20-50. Many people who get it have had migraine headaches before. A migraine usually starts slowly, but this condition brings sudden, strong head pain. You might have vision changes, stroke-like symptoms, and seizures, too.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect RCVS. Treatment can prevent serious problems like a stroke.
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH). You get this when the pressure of the fluid around your brain gets too high. That leads to an intense or repeated headache. You may also have vision loss, nausea, and vomiting.
One sign that you have IIH instead of migraine is a whooshing sound in your ears. Instead of easing after a half hour or so, the vision problems are long-lasting. Also, if you have IIH, medicine doesn’t help your nausea.
Cerebrospinal fluid leak. In rare cases, the tissue that contains your brain and spinal cord fluid gets a tear or hole, allowing some of the fluid to leak out. This leads to a headache that may get better when you lie down.
You can have other symptoms similar to migraine, like nausea, vomiting, and light and noise sensitivity. But with CSF leaks, you sometimes have pain between your shoulder blades. You may also feel off balance and hear ringing in your ears.