A Painful Headache


As a healthcare worker, one thing which unifies me with others in the field is data. Facts, science, and measurable outcomes based on current and ongoing research. The data you accumulate leads to the treatment modalities that you eventually see in clinical practice. This is why healthcare is constantly changing and evolving. Sometimes there are clear answers and other times, it’s a work in progress. Lupus is one such condition because from the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, there is just so much more to discover and learn. 


Living with lupus and managing its symptoms is for the brave and learning to be an advocate for yourself is for heroes. I mention all of this because headaches (our topic of discussion) have been known to reduce quality of life and have a huge economic impact on society as a whole. They are painful and debilitating. In addition to the many complex symptoms of lupus, by adding headaches to the mix, one can only imagine how challenging it is to manage and navigate it all. 

What is a lupus headache?

There is a high prevalence of headaches in lupus patients, but there isn’t an agreement on what exactly a lupus headache is and how it may differ from a regular or migraine headache in terms of symptoms and treatment. The universally agreed upon data is not out just yet. But we want to try to break it down and understand them as much as possible because treatment needs will differ based on diagnosis. And well, you and your pain matter.

The types of headaches commonly seen in lupus patients are: 

  • Regular headaches which can be treated with over the counter analgesic medication and aren’t caused by a primacy condition.


  • Chronic migraines which are most common in women under 40 and typically occur in people with a history of migraines. They are usually triggered by environmental, emotional, or hormonal changes. They can be treated with over the counter analgesics or in some cases, prescription triptan medications. 


  • Lupus headaches which have symptoms that are similar to other headaches. But it’s imperative to differentiate them because there are different treatment strategies for headaches, migraines, and lupus headaches.

Why do lupus headaches occur and how can they be managed?

The reason why lupus headaches present the way they do is because they may be caused by active disease progression. It is the opinion of some rheumatology experts that involvement of the central nervous system causes these headaches. Inflammation of this part of the body causes severe pain, specifically vasculitis. The diagnosis can be confirmed by a neurologist. They may run several tests including a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) or a blood vessel study called an MRA or CT-angiogram. 


Treatment for lupus headaches:

  • Over the counter pain relievers
  • Prescription corticosteroids
  • Diet changes
  • Reduced stress
  • Sleep
  • Warm baths or showers
  • Acupressure
  • Acupuncture
  • Behavior modification techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, or yoga
  • Herbs, vitamins, and other supplements. Many over the counter supplements can interact with lupus medications and should be taken with precaution under the supervision of your doctor.


By Nadia Bhatti

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