Headaches are so common among lupus sufferers that many guides include them in a list of symptoms. However, a new study suggests that lupus headaches aren’t actually lupus headaches at all. Although the study proposes that the headache/lupus connection is merely coincidence, it’s possible that the connection between the two is actually TMJ.
What Is Lupus?
Lupus is one of many autoimmune disorders. In an autoimmune disorder, your body mistakes its own tissue for disease tissue, and attacks it, resulting in chronic inflammation. In lupus, these attacks can target virtually any part of your body, including your skin, organs, and joints.
Lupus is most commonly associated with the following symptoms:
- Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling
- A “butterfly” rash: redness on both cheeks and the bridge of the nose
- Skin lesions that may only appear after sun exposure or may worsen with exposure
However the symptoms of lupus are so variable that it is sometimes said no two cases are the same. And, along with these symptoms are often listed headaches, which may affect up to three quarters of lupus sufferers.
Dissociating Headaches and Lupus
However, the new study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism claims that headaches are not normally caused by lupus. This study is not a small one conducted by unknown researchers at a minor college, they are the result of a large international research initiative, the Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics (SLICC). SLICC researchers recruited more than 1732 lupus patients from their 30 research centers. They then looked at the headaches suffered by these patients and attempted to correlate them to lupus characteristics using many different standards, such as patients’ SLEDAI 2K scores (a questionnaire used to evaluate lupus activity level), specific antibodies, lupus treatments, and others. They concluded that only about 1.5% of patients actually had lupus headaches.
Instead of lupus headaches, people were more likely to have common headache types such as migraine headaches (60.7%), tension headaches (38.6%), or intractable nonspecific (7.1%), although many patients had multiple types. They note that these headaches tend to resolve over time, but are not associated with the progress or lack of progress in a patient’s lupus treatment.
Could TMJ Mediate Headaches in Lupus?
Considering the magnitude of their conclusion, researchers should have been ready with a good explanation. However, researchers simply stated that headaches are common in the population as a whole, and so it may just be coincidence that they seem to be associated with lupus.
Based on the magnitude of the association between lupus and headaches in earlier studies, this seems like a hard conclusion to swallow. However, another explanation might link the two conditions without requiring that either the study be wrong or that lupus headaches are the product of mere chance. TMJ is common in lupus patients (perhaps 67% of lupus sufferers have TMJ involvement), and since TMJ can cause headaches, it might serve as an intermediate condition between lupus and headaches.
Of course, this has not been confirmed, but perhaps it should be researched.
In the meantime, if you need help with your headaches, TMJ treatment may be right for you. To learn more, please call (303) 691-0267 at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver.