Headaches Not Uncommon with Lupus

Headaches in lupus patients were not linked to disease severity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A person with lupus has an immune system that attacks the body itself. It can lead to a variety of health concerns, including headaches.

A recent study, however, found that the headaches experienced by individuals with lupus did not appear to be linked to how severe their disease was.

In fact, more than half the headaches experienced by those with lupus in the study went away on their own.

More than half the patients who had headaches reported having migraines. The second most common type of headache they had were tension headaches.

"Discuss headache management with your rheumatologist."

This study was led by John G. Hanly, MD, of the Division of Rheumatology at Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The researchers aimed to find out how common headaches were for lupus patients and how they might relate to patients' disease activity.

The researchers tracked 1,732 patients for an average of 3.8 years. They were enrolled between October 1999 and September 2011.

Most of the participants (89 percent) were female and about half were white, with an average age of 35 years.

The average length of time since their diagnosis at the time they started the study was 5.6 months.

The participants were asked once a year whether they experienced any of five different types of headaches and any of 18 other different neurological or psychiatric occurrences.

The researchers also assessed each participant's level of disease activity, the amount of damage their body had sustained from the lupus and information on their mental and physical health.

At the start of the study, 18 percent of the patients reported experiencing headaches, and more than half of these (61 percent) were migraine headaches.

A little more than a third of those who had headaches (39 percent) reported having tension headaches.

Toward the end of the study, 10 years later, about 58 percent of the participants at that time reported having headaches.

Only a small number of patients (1.5 percent) reported having "lupus headaches," a type of migraine-like headache that is considered specific to lupus disease activity.

The researchers also found connections between the headaches and other neurological or psychiatric experiences of the participants, both related and unrelated to their lupus.

However, the researchers did not find a link between the headaches and the amount of lupus disease activity the participants experienced.

They also found no link between the headaches and amount of disease damage or use of corticosteroids, antimalarials or immunosuppressive medications.

The researchers also did not find a connection between lupus patients' headaches and specific auto-antibodies in their system. Auto-antibodies are immune system cells that attack the body itself.

The mental and physical health scores for the participants experiencing headaches was a little lower than in the patients not experiencing headaches.

The researchers concluded that having headaches was common among lupus patients but did not appear to be linked to the severity of their disease or specific auto-antibodies.

The majority of the headaches (56 percent) went away on their own without any specific therapies used for lupus.

This study was published October 28 in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism. No information was provided regarding conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the UK Medical Research Council, the Korea Healthcare Technology R&D Project, the Korean Ministry for Health and Welfare, Lupus UK, the Wellcome Trust, the National Institutes of Health, the Singer Family Fund for Lupus Research, Arthritis Research UK, the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, the Central Manchester Foundation Trust, the Danish Rheumatism Association, Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Universities and Research of the Basque Government.

Review Date: 
October 28, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014