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Fibromyalgia and chronic migraine have a lot more in common than you may think, and that actually includes some treatment options. What can you do to find symptom relief and help yourself to a higher quality of life?

When two medical conditions that severely impact your quality of life come together, you're left with a nasty double-whammy. This unfortunate fact is a daily reality for people who suffer from both migraine and fibromyalgia. 

You may not have been aware that migraine and "fibro" patients often have a lot in common:

  • Migraine and fibromyalgia both strike women in their reproductive years most often, and women are seven times more likely to be struck by fibromyalgia than men. 
  • Migraine sufferers develop fibromyalgia at higher rates than people who suffer from tension headaches, and also fare worse in the symptom department when they do have the condition. 
  • Suffering from both chronic migraines and fibromyalgia means you have an increased risk of battling depression, anxiety and depression than people who only have chronic migraines. 
  • Migraine and fibromyalgia often co-exist in the same patient — research revealed that 36 percent of people with "transformed migraines" (migraines that have grown worse over time and are now often a daily occurrence) also have fibromyalgia. In comparison, only around two percent of the general population is affected by fibromyalgia. 

Research shows that over a third of fibromyalgia sufferers experience either migraines or tension headaches, and 42 percent of these headache patients have tender points — characteristic of fibromyalgia — all over their bodies. It is no surprise that the study authors concluded that having both conditions means increased pain and a decreased quality of life that features higher levels of disability and depression.

The fact that around four in 10 chronic headache patients have tender points means that a sensitization process similar to that seen in fibromyalgia sufferers may be at work, resulting in an extreme pain response to touch that doesn't typically cause any discomfort. 

What Can Dual Fibromyalgia And Migraine Sufferers Do To Find Symptom Relief?

Because fibromyalgia and chronic migraine may both be caused by changes to the part of the brain that processes pain that essentially send the nervous system into overdrive, and stress can trigger and worsen both migraine and fibromyalgia, the same treatment can sometimes help you find relief from both conditions. Other treatments focus on either migraines or fibromyalgia.

Antidepressants — not just for depression!

Antidepressants of the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) class will not just offer you relief if you are facing depression and anxiety, but are also effective at reducing your pain. Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline, may, meanwhile, work to curb those overactive pain signals, though their mechanism of action in relation to chronic pain isn't understood that well yet. It is, however, clear that they often work. 

Tizanidine: A muscle relaxant that also relieves pain

Tizanidine is an Alpha-2 Agonist that inhibits pain. It has been found to work quite well as a preventative treatment for chronic migraines, especially in higher doses. Your migraines may not entirely be banished to the past if you are prescribed Tizanidine, but their frequency and severity is likely to reduce, and they'll also probably last less long. 

Creating a calm environment

A calm environment is going to make migraines more bearable, so:

  • Dim your lights. A dark and quiet room in which you can attempt to sleep is best, but if that's not possible, at least dim the lights and minimize noise levels — because both bright light and loud sounds can make your migraine worse. 
  • Using heating packs or ice packs, a form of treatment called temperature therapy, may both reduce your symptoms using different mechanisms. While contact with something cool numbs painful areas, heat eases tension in your muscles. 
  • Caffeine may sound like a bad idea — it can interfere with your (already likely poor) sleep quality and consuming large amounts can even cause headaches as your body goes for withdrawals. A small amount, in the form of a cup of coffee, can, on the other hand, stop early migraines in their tracks sometimes. 

Pain management techniques

Breathing exercises successfully offer pain and anxiety relief to many people. You will want to explore different ones, like:

  • Rhythmic breathing
  • Visualized breathing
  • Deep breathing

Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique you can learn in order to manage chronic pain — as well as anxiety, stress, and even insomnia, all things that both migraine and fibromyalgia patients will likely encounter — more effectively. This technique involves consciously tensing and then relaxing voluntary muscles throughout your body in a systematic way. People often start at the top of their bodies and then "work their way down", or the other way around. Try:

  • Picking the order in which you want to go through your muscles
  • Then start by tensing each muscle in preparation for relaxing it
  • After tensing the muscle, let it relax as much as possible

The process of tensing and relaxing enables you to learn the difference between a relaxed and tensed state more easily — many people tense muscles without even realizing it. 

Guided imagery is another useful tool. If you've ever attended a yoga class, you are probably already familiar with it, as these classes often feature deep relaxation periods in which the instructor tells you to mentally go to a "safe place" where you can relax. For some people, this may be a windy forest with bird song. For others, a wavy beach will do the trick. In the process of creating your own ideal environment for relaxing, your mind gains something other than pain, stress, or the fact that you can't sleep to focus on. Research shows that it works for these things as well as in dealing with panic, anxiety, depression, and fear — so give it a try! Guided imagery may even boost your immune system and make you less reliant on painkillers. 

Biofeedback is the term given to a set of tools or techniques that aim to help you control aspects of your physiology that are normally involuntary. It's used, for example, to teach people to slow their heartbeat down. In light of that, the idea that it can also stop beginning migraines doesn't sound so weird! Different biofeedback methods exist, but they all use electrical sensors of some kind. These may focus on your breathing, muscles, temperature, and even brainwaves. 

Talk therapy, massage, acupuncture, and physical therapy can all play a role in helping you manage chronic pain as well. 

Exercise

Research shows that regular exercise can cut down how many migraine attacks you experience over the long run, and it can also help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms. Be careful, though, because overdoing it can have the opposite effect. Yoga, swimming, and walking are forms of exercise that will help with both conditions, and even 15 to 30 minutes a few times a week will help. The reasons exercise helps combat chronic pain are twofold — exercise allows more oxygen to flow to different parts of your body, and it also reduces stress.

Work on your sleep quality

The vast majority of chronic migraine sufferers don't sleep very well, research shows, and that in turn leads to more headaches as well as higher incidences of depression and anxiety. Some proactive steps can take you closer to the restorative sleep you deserve:

  • Regular exercise
  • Making your bedroom an electronic-free zone and staying away from TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones the hour before you go to bed
  • Having regular bed and wake-up times

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