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Illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Migraine

Individuals who suffer from Gulf War illness (GWI) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) often share many of the same symptoms, including migraine.

Researchers from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. recently suggested that the disorders may share a central nervous system dysfunction that could account for the chronic pain, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction (sometimes described as brain fog) that Gulf War illness, chronic fatigue, and migraine sufferers have in common.

Migraine is the most common headache disorder among patients with CFS, but more research is needed to determine the type and prevalence of headaches in those who have Gulf War illness, which affects more than 200,000 people who served in the 1990-91 Gulf war. To better understand headache in people with GWI and CFS and potential links between the disorders, researchers, led by Rakib U. Rayhan, MS, studied 50 patients with GWI, 39 with CFS, and 45 controls. As is common with Gulf War illness, all of those in the GWI group fit the criteria for CFS as well.

Eighty-two percent of patients with chronic fatigue also reported migraine symptoms as compared to 64% of those with Gulf War illness and 13% of the control group. Women outnumbered men 4:1 in the CFS group, and more than twice as many men as women were in the GWI group. However, researchers found that gender was not a factor for migraine. Tension headaches were also common in the GWI group (20%), compared to 7% in the CFS group.

Additionally, researchers found that patients in both the GWI and CFS groups had lower pain thresholds, indicating a system-wide heightened sensitivity to pain.

While the researchers noted several limitations to this study, including its small size, they believe important information can be gleaned from it. They called for interdisciplinary studies to find the causes and potential treatments for these illnesses and other chronic conditions. They also say a structured headache evaluation in patients with GWI and CFS should be standard and that treatment should be provided accordingly.

This article appeared online in Frontiers in Integrative Physiology on July 24, 2013. The authors of the study are very detailed in their description about how these disorders may be linked physiologically and did careful statistical analysis of their small number of participants.

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