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Chronic Migraines Linked to TMJ Disorder

Researchers from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil have discovered that patients suffering from chronic migraine attacks more than 15 days a month are three times more likely to have severe TMJ disorder symptoms than patients with only episodic migraines.

"It makes sense when you think about basic anatomy," said Dr. David Buck, DDS, an innovative orthodontist who treats both TMJ disorders and migraine conditions in his Lynwood, Washington, practice.

"The temporomandibular joint is located on each side of the face, just in front of the ear," he said. "You can feel it by placing your hands there and opening and closing your mouth. This joint connects the jaw to the skull, so anything that causes pain in the jaw could easily radiate upward and cause headaches or migraines."

Small Study Finds Big Connection in Migraine Pain and TMD

The research team looked at 84 women in their 30s. Of the women, 21 experienced chronic migraines, 31 experienced episodic migraines and 32 had no history of migraines at all. Of the women with no history of migraines, 54 percent had symptoms of TMJ disorders. The numbers rose significantly in the women with migraine conditions: 80 percent of those with episodic migraines had symptoms of TMJ, and 100 percent of those with chronic migraines showed symptoms.

Chronic Migraines and Episodic Migraines 

According to the International Headache Society, a chronic migraine is one that occurs more than 15 days per month over a three-month period. Episodic migraines, on the other hand, occur fewer than 15 days per month.

The research team believes that the connection between migraines and TMJ disorders could have something to do with nociceptors, which are nerve endings that process pain related to stimuli. Those who experience such a high rate of migraines could have an increase in sensitivity to pain.

Migraines a Huge Problem for Many Americans

Migraines affect 39 million Americans, including men, women and even children, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. It’s the third most prevalent illness in the world and the sixth most disabling. 

"Many people seem to think migraine is just a fancy word for a regular headache," Buck said. "For patients who live with this neurological disease, migraines can be extremely debilitating. In addition to the head pain, many experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness and extreme sensitivity to light, sound and even touch."

The Migraine Research Foundation says that attacks last on average between four and 72 hours. Women are affected disproportionately: 85 percent of chronic migraine sufferers are women. Despite the prevalence of migraines, relatively few treatment options exist. Although 38 million Americans suffer from the condition, there are only 500 certified headache specialists in the United States. Many people don’t even seek treatment for their migraines, and the ones who do rarely receive preventative treatment, according to MRF.


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