There’s a Deeper Connection between Migraines and Sleep Apnea

I recently received a notification about a new study published in Medscape. This new study targeted a connection between migraines and sleep apnea, which I found to be very interesting. It suggests that patients with migraines, especially chronic, are at an increased risk for sleep disturbances.

There were about 37 percent of patients with migraines that responded to the survey and were deemed “high risk” for sleep apnea. And with over 75 percent of migraine respondents with sleep apnea diagnosed by a physician, it was worthwhile to being talking to patients about this connection.

Migraines and Sleep Apnea, a Link

Dawn Buse, PhD, a director of behavioral medicine for the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City, presented new results from the Chronic Migraine Epidemiology and Outcomes (CaMEO) study at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) this year. Both depression and anxiety have a bidirectional relationship with migraines.  This relationship exists in sleep disorders because they can aggravate migraines, just as migraines can worsen sleep disorders.

This study had 16,763 respondents, with 12,810 providing valid data. The participants were divided into those with episodic migraines (EM) and those with chronic migraines (CM). Respondents with CM had a headache on 15 or more days in a month. There were 11,699 participants with EM and 1,111 with CM.

Chronic and Episodic Migraines

The differences between EM and CM groups were clear, though. In the CM group, it contained more women, while the EM group was significantly more likely to be employed. What was also not surprising to Dr. Buse was that the CM group was more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI).

In followups, the risk for sleep apnea was assessed as high or low by using the Berlin Scale for Sleep Apnea. From this, 37 percent of respondents were at a high risk for sleep apnea. The risk then changes across BMI categories. For men with EM, the rates skyrocket from 11 percent those those who are underweight to 18 percent for those who are normal weight and then to 35 percent for overweight individuals and 79 percent for those that are obese.

To contrast that information, rates for women followed the same pattern, but their risks were consistently lower than those among men. In addition, sleep apnea risk for patients with CM also rose with increasing BMI. Their risk was even higher in the obese category which had 92 percent of men and 84 percent of women at higher risk for sleep apnea.

Knowing this extra information is important for the care of our patients. By understanding the connection between migraines and sleep apnea, we can continue to treat both conditions successfully.