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Could Asthma Be Partly To Blame For Migraines?

Vincent Martin, MD says about 12 percent of the U.S. population experiences migraines.

A new report from University of Cincinnati researchers is drawing a connection between asthma and migraines. Dr. Vincent Martin with the Division of Internal Medicine says migraine patients with asthma were two times more likely to develop chronic migraines.Martin and others analyzed data from the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study. They found migraine patients with asthma were two times more likely to develop chronic migraines. Digging deeper, Martin says of those who had the most severe asthma symptoms also had higher likelihood of chronic migraines.

"In the group that had the most frequent asthma symptoms, there was a three-fold increased risk of chronic migraine, which is just a massive relative risk for migraine in that population."

Allergies could be the connecting factor between asthma and migraines.

"About 80 percent of asthma patients actually have allergies," Martin says. "And it's very possible that allergies could actually be triggering migraine headache in some of these patients. We've done past studies at the University of Cincinnati and we found that if migraine patients had allergies, and they were receiving allergy shots, which kind of blunts the allergic response, that they actually had 50 percent fewer migraine attacks."

Martin says an overactive parasympathetic nervous system could also be to blame.

“The strength of the relationship is robust; asthma was a stronger predictor of chronic migraine than depression, which other studies have found to be one of the most potent conditions associated with the future development of chronic migraine,” he adds.

According to UC, about 12 percent of the U.S. population experiences migraines.

Asthma affects 7.3 percent of Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What's Next?

Martin says the next step is to look at genetic factors that predispose to both migraines and asthma.

He says the study's results show it's important to consider all health concerns together, rather than focusing on individual issues. He also thinks prescribing preventive migraine medications earlier could help protect against chronic migraines.

The findings are published online in the journal Headache.

Martin worked with Richard Lipton, MD, and Dawn Buse, PhD, both of Montefiore Headache Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Kristina Fanning, PhD, Daniel Serrano, PhD, and Michael Reed, PhD, all from Vedanta Research.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.