Is there a migraine and epilepsy connection?

  • September 9, 2020
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In this article

A migraine is a complex condition which causes extremely painful headaches and sensory disturbances. People with epilepsy are also twice as likely to experience migraines as others. So, is there a migraine and epilepsy connection? 

Defining epilepsy and migraines

  • Epilepsy can be defined as: A chronic noncommunicable disease of the brain that is characterized by recurrent seizures. 

Epileptic seizures involve a sudden burst of electrical activity in the brain which may cause certain behavior or bodily movements. They usually last between a few seconds and a couple of minutes. 

  • Migraine can be defined as: An inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance.

Migraines are very severe headaches which normally stop the sufferer from doing their usual activities. They often last several hours (or sometimes even a few days). People often get them once every few months but sometimes more frequently. 

Can migraine cause seizures then? There is no definite evidence that migraines cause seizures. However, some researchers theorize that migraines may cause damage to the brain, and this could be a cause of seizures. 

Migraine and epilepsy connection

Right now, researchers are not sure if there is a migraine and epilepsy connection. However, one study did find that people whose close family have epilepsy are more likely to suffer from migraines. This suggests there could be a genetic link, but more research is needed. 

There are also certain similarities between epilepsy and migraine headaches:

  • Similar triggers

Epileptic seizures and migraine headaches can both be triggered by things like stress, alcohol and lack of sleep. 

  • Similar treatments

There are certain kinds of migraine and seizure medication which are used to treat both conditions, such as topiramate

  • Similar symptoms

Migraine and epilepsy share some symptoms, including headaches, numbness in the arms and face, and feeling sick

Both conditions sometimes cause people to have an ‘aura’ which is an unusual visual or physical sensation which tells them a seizure or a migraine might happen soon. 

While these similarities are important, it is also crucial to remember that migraine and epilepsy are different in important ways. Migraine affects a far higher number of people than epilepsy, it is much more common in women (whereas epilepsy is split more equally between genders) and seizures can be life-threatening in a way that a migraine is not. 

What to do if you have epilepsy and migraines

If you experience both epilepsy and migraines, it is important to speak with your healthcare professional about your symptoms. They may be able to give you certain medicines which help you manage your migraines, or recommend lifestyle changes which make it less likely you will have them. 

It can also be helpful to use Epsy to record when you have migraines to provide your treatment team with more information. 

‍To learn more about migraine and to support Migraine Awareness Week, head over to the Migraine Trust’s website, Twitter or Facebook.

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