Migraine headaches in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): Comparison of two prospective cross-sectional studies

Murugan K. Ravindran, Yin Zheng, Christian Timbol, Samantha J. Merck, James N. Baraniuk

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32 Scopus citations


Background: Headaches are more frequent in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) than healthy control (HC) subjects. The 2004 International Headache Society (IHS) criteria were used to define CFS headache phenotypes.Methods: Subjects in Cohort 1 (HC = 368; CFS = 203) completed questionnaires about many diverse symptoms by giving nominal (yes/no) answers. Cohort 2 (HC = 21; CFS = 67) had more focused evaluations. They scored symptom severities on 0 to 4 anchored ordinal scales, and had structured headache evaluations. All subjects had history and physical examinations; assessments for exclusion criteria; questionnaires about CFS related symptoms (0 to 4 scale), Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI) and Medical Outcome Survey Short Form 36 (MOS SF-36).Results: Demographics, trends for the number of diffuse "functional" symptoms present, and severity of CFS case designation criteria symptoms were equivalent between CFS subjects in Cohorts 1 and 2. HC had significantly fewer symptoms, lower MFI and higher SF-36 domain scores than CFS in both cohorts. Migraine headaches were found in 84%, and tension-type headaches in 81% of Cohort 2 CFS. This compared to 5% and 45%, respectively, in HC. The CFS group had migraine without aura (60%; MO; CFS+MO), with aura (24%; CFS+MA), tension headaches only (12%), or no headaches (4%). Co-morbid tension and migraine headaches were found in 67% of CFS. CFS+MA had higher severity scores than CFS+MO for the sum of scores for poor memory, dizziness, balance, and numbness ("Neuro-construct", p = 0.002) and perceived heart rhythm disturbances, palpitations and noncardiac chest pain ("Cardio-construct"; p = 0.045, t-tests after Bonferroni corrections). CFS+MO subjects had lower pressure-induced pain thresholds (2.36 kg [1.95-2.78; 95% C.I.] n = 40) and a higher prevalence of fibromyalgia (47%; 1990 criteria) compared to HC (5.23 kg [3.95-6.52] n = 20; and 0%, respectively). Sumatriptan was beneficial for 13 out of 14 newly diagnosed CFS migraine subjects.Conclusions: CFS subjects had higher prevalences of MO and MA than HC, suggesting that mechanisms of migraine pathogenesis such as central sensitization may contribute to CFS pathophysiology.Clinical Trial Registration: Georgetown University IRB # 2006-481. ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00810329.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
JournalBMC neurology
StatePublished - Mar 5 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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