For people with migraines, the prospect of learning they have diabetes can be a scary one. While migraines and diabetes aren’t necessarily connected by cause, people with the two conditions often have similar health needs.
Understanding the connection between migraines and diabetes and the impact on the body can help you take the best possible steps toward managing your health and migraines.
The two conditions have several overlapping symptoms, including excessive urination at night, changes in appetite, and fatigue.
While migraines are often triggered by stress, the connection between migraines and diabetes has led some people to wonder if and how stress could exacerbate their diabetes symptoms.
Reading about the connection between migraines and diabetes will give you a better understanding of the circumstances that trigger your migraines and their impact on you.
You’ll learn about the types of migraines and medications that can trigger them, and what you can do to manage the condition and prevent migraines in the future.
What Is A Migraine?
Migraine headaches are a type of headache pain that affects around one percent of the population. “Migraine” is a general term for related neurological conditions that cause pain in the head and neck. There are three main types of migraine:
- Intense, throbbing pain on one side of the head lasts from two to 72 hours, followed by numbness or tingling.
- Sensitivity to light, sound, or smell on one side of the head.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Migraine prevalence is three times higher in women than men, and the condition often begins during adolescence or young adulthood. Chronic migraine, defined as having a headache for more than 15 days per month, is experienced by around four percent of the population.
Migraine And The Brain
According to the National Headache Foundation, migraines affect the brain by causing changes in blood flow to that area. When the brain is under pressure from a migraine, it sends nerve signals to the body and sometimes to the head to relieve that pressure.
This can lead to a migraine headache. People with migraines have a higher risk of developing other chronic health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety.
There are two main types of headaches: primary and secondary.
Primary headaches are not caused by another condition, while secondary headaches are symptoms of an underlying health issue.
Health and medical researchers have found that migraine frequency can increase anxiety and stress in people with the condition and can even affect people’s cognitive function.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t produce or use glucose. High blood sugar levels can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation.
A blood glucose test is the best way to diagnose diabetes. Diabetes is treated with a combination of lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise, and medication.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that more than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, and around one in four of them doesn’t know it. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the US.
Migraines And Diabetes: Symptoms And Causes
People with diabetes are more likely to experience migraines than other people. Both migraines and diabetes are linked to changes in the brain's blood vessels. Blood vessels in the brain are tiny — only 0.0005 inches wide — and they’re lined with a fatty substance called myelin.
Migraine pathophysiology and diabetes diagnosis are both complex and not fully understood. However, it is known that changes in the diameter of blood vessels and changes in the myelin lining can lead to migraines.
If the blood vessels in the brain become blocked or leak fluid, they can cause pain. Migraines are often linked to changes in the blood vessels that affect the nerves in the head and neck.
Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body doesn’t use insulin properly, is another factor that might lead to both migraines and diabetes. Low blood sugar levels might also trigger migraines.
Migraines And Diabetes: Ways The Conditions Are Connected
Migraines can be a common symptom of diabetes, occurring in about half of people. Migraines can also be a complication of diabetes. This type of migraine occurs when the blood vessels in the brain are blocked or leak fluid.
It can occur at any stage of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, when insulin is used to control blood glucose; Type 2, when insulin isn’t enough or isn’t working properly; or gestational diabetes, when a baby’s mother has diabetes and passes it onto the baby during pregnancy.
Migraines And Stress
Stress can trigger migraines in people who have the condition. The link between stress and migraines is twofold: The body releases hormones when it’s under stress, and these hormones can change the blood vessels in the brain.
This can lead to migraines. In addition, stress can trigger changes in the brain that cause migraines.
The international headache society (IHS) classifies migraines into four categories:
- Migraine without aura
- Migraine with aura
- Chronic migraine
- Probable migraine
Migraines and Obesity
People with migraines are often overweight and obese. Obesity is a significant risk factor for migraines and can trigger the condition in some people.
Certain migraines are more common in obese people, such as explosive or retrograde headaches, and are more likely to be severe. Obesity can also cause changes in the blood vessels in the brain. These changes can lead to migraines.
"Metabolic syndrome" is a group of conditions that increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. People with migraines are more likely to have metabolic syndrome than people without migraines.
Migraines are usually linked to certain factors or triggers. Migraines are most likely to occur at certain times of the month, during times of stress, or when a person is sleep deprived. These are all examples of how migraines and diabetes are linked by changes in the body’s hormonal and environmental cues.
There are many potential triggers for migraines, and each person experiences them differently. Some people with migraines might find that their symptoms are triggered by:
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle
- Lack of sleep
- Bright lights or loud noises
- Strong smells
- Changes in weather or barometric pressure
- Smoking or exposure to smoke
- Certain foods or food additives
- Alcohol or caffeine
- Medications, such as vasodilators (blood vessel dilators) or beta-blockers (heart rate lowering medications)
Signs of Migraine-Related Headache
Nausea and vomiting are two of the most common symptoms of migraines. Many people with migraines experience nausea and vomiting simultaneously each day and in the same circumstances as part of their migraines.
People with migraines often experience other side effects of pain, such as sensitivity to light, sound, or smell on one side of the head.
Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) is a protein involved in pain signaling. CGRP levels are often elevated in people with migraines.
Managing Migraines With Diabetes
Migraines are a common condition among people with diabetes. When migraines occur with diabetes, it’s important to understand their causes and how to manage them. The most important step to take is maintaining a healthy diet and exercise plan.
Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, limiting sugary foods and alcohol, and getting regular physical activity will help you reduce your risk of diabetes and help prevent migraines.
It’s also important to pay attention to your blood glucose levels. If you notice that your blood sugar levels are too high, you can take insulin or eat something low in sugar.
Tips for Managing Migraines While Having Diabetes
- Try eating a small, regular snack before bedtime.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the afternoon.
- Take a regular exercise program, even if it's just walking around the block.
- Aim to get 8 hours of sleep each night, no caffeine after noon, no alcohol during the day, and no skipping meals.
- Limit stress by doing something you enjoy, like reading or playing a board game.
- Ask your doctor about a medication like Sumatriptan (generic name: sumatriptan injection). It’s a fast-acting medication that can be taken as a nasal spray or tablet and works quickly to treat the pain of a migraine.
- Keep track of your migraine symptoms to better understand when and how frequently you’re likely to get a migraine and what steps you can take to prevent or treat it.
What Can Help During a Migraine
The key to managing migraines and diabetes is to make sure you have the resources you need to feel better mentally and physically.
While food doesn’t heal your body, it is still an important component of overall health. A healthy diet consisting of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein can help you stay energized and focused throughout your day.
People with diabetes can take medications to help them better manage their blood glucose levels. Migraine medications, especially those used to treat auras, might also work to prevent migraines. Migraine prevention medications are designed to prevent migraines by reducing the frequency or intensity of the headaches.
Getting enough sleep can help reduce stress and increase your energy level, which can help prevent migraines. Also, having a regular schedule can help you avoid triggers, such as missing meals, having little or no sleep, or spending too much time indoors.
If you have migraines, diabetes, or both, there are things you can do to manage your condition and prevent migraines. You may want to work with a doctor or healthcare provider to develop a plan to get you the resources and support you need.
Breaking down barriers to care, such as the cost of transportation, can help to ensure that you have access to the treatment you need. Similarly, you may want to look into health resources that can help you with your diabetes, including support groups, programs, or education about managing your condition.
Understanding the connection between migraines and diabetes and the impact that both conditions have on the body can help you manage your health and migraines.