Migraines are Common in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Migraines in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Getty Images

Chronic fatigue syndrome is anything but a psychological illness. It is a very real medical condition that causes extreme fatigue – often described as pure exhaustion or a draining of all one's energy. For people who suffer from this debilitating disease, simple daily tasks like going to the grocery store or getting dressed can be overwhelmingly daunting and frankly impossible to complete.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome – abbreviated CFS and also known by the medical term myalgic encephalomyelitis – is defined by persistent and profound fatigue that lasts longer than six months and is not alleviated by rest. Due to the debilitating fatigue, people  engage in a reduced number of activities related to their jobs, school, and social life.

Other symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that may accompany the pervasive fatigue include:

  • Headache
  • Multi-joint pain without joint swelling or redness
  • Muscle pain
  • Postexertional malaise for longer than 24 hours
  • Self-reported impairment in short-term memory or concentration
  • Sore Throat
  • Tender lymph nodes in the armpit or neck
  • Unrefreshing sleep

Recently, the Institute of Medicine redefined chronic fatigue syndrome – even renaming it to systemic exertional intolerance disease – based on an extensive review of past studies. Based on their criteria, people with CFS/systemic exertional intolerance disease exhibit all 3 of the following symptoms:

  • 6 months of profound fatigue
  • Postexertional malaise
  • Unrefreshing sleep

And, at least 1 of the following 2 symptoms:

  • Problems with thinking or memory
  • Orthostatic intolerance – People with orthostatic intolerance may develop a variety of symptoms like fainting, dizziness, fatigue, or fast heart rate when standing up. These symptoms are then relieved when lying down.

    What is the Link Between Migraines and CFS?

    People with chronic fatigue syndrome have a higher prevalence of migraine with and without aura. In one study in BioMed Central of 67 people with chronic fatigue syndrome, 60% suffered from migraine without aura and 24% from migraine with aura. Interestingly, many of these people with both migraine and chronic fatigue syndrome were unaware they were suffering from migraines – instead, attributing their headaches to part of their overall severe fatigue and generalized pain.

    Due to the low number of migraine diagnoses, few had been prescribed triptans, but all of them had taken nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) for their head pain. This brings up the possibility that medication overuse headache may play a role in chronic fatigue syndrome.

    What Does This All Mean?

    First, if you have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, be assured that your disease is real and not something in your mind. With the Institute of Medicine's new criteria, hopefully more research and a broader openness to helping those who suffer from it will occur.

    Second, if you suffer from headaches – in addition to CFS/systemic exertional intolerance syndrome – you very well could be having migraines – of which they are excellent treatments, like triptans. Be sure to speak with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis.


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    DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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