Migraines and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis

Thirty-two percent of patients with multiple sclerosis experience both migraine and pain with neuropathic (related to nerve damage) characteristics, according to a report by French researchers led by Xavier Moisse. These two symptoms appear to be caused by different mechanisms.

The authors conducted a postal survey to assess the prevalence and characteristics of neuropathic pain and migraine in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Of the 1300 questionnaires sent, 673 were complete enough be used for statistical analysis. Among the respondents, the overall pain prevalence in the previous month was 79%, with 51% experiencing pain with neuropathic characteristics and 46% migraine. MS patients with both migraine and neuropathic pain (32% of the respondents) reported more severe pain and had lower health-related quality of life than MS patients with either migraine or just pain. Migraine was mostly episodic, but in 15% they were chronic, meaning that they occurred on 15 or more days per month. Neuropathic pain was most often located in the extremities, back and head, and was frequently described as tingling and pins-and-needles. The intensity of pain was low to moderate. Nonetheless, patients with pain were more disabled than patients with migraine. Migraine, but not pain, was more common with older age, disease duration, relapsing-remitting course, and interferon-beta treatment.

We do see patients without a history of headaches who develop headaches, including migraines, as a side effect of interferon treatment, both when it is given for MS as well as hepatitis C. These headaches can be managed just like any other migraine or chronic migraine with magnesium, medications, Botox injections, etc., although the response to treatment sometimes is not as good. If a patient with MS has both migraines and pain, we try using medications such as gabapentin or amitriptyline, which can help both conditions.

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