It is possible for lupus to cause headaches, as it can affect the nervous system. Medications and preventive measures may help with lupus headaches and other symptoms.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition. This refers to when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, which can damage multiple parts of the body and cause a variety of symptoms.

As such, many people living with lupus may experience frequent headaches. The severity of headaches can vary among those with lupus, and many individuals may refer to them as lupus headaches. However, researchers are not sure if lupus causes these headaches or if they occur alongside lupus.

This article discusses why headaches may occur with lupus and how people can try to manage them.

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Lupus can affect almost any organ in the body, and symptoms can vary greatly between people. Evidence notes that lupus can affect the nervous system, which may manifest as symptoms such as headaches.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type of lupus. A 2021 study notes that primary headache, such as migraine, is a common feature of SLE and may affect up to 54.4% of people with the condition.

People living with lupus may experience various types of headaches for different reasons. Some of these may include:

  • Migraine: This is a type of moderate to severe headache that may feel like a throbbing pain on one side of the head. The exact cause of migraine is unknown, but they may occur due to temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves, and blood vessels in the brain.
  • Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS): This is an immune disorder in which abnormal antibodies link to irregular blood clots in veins and arteries. Many people with SLE may be positive for APS. A common feature of APS is recurrent headaches.
  • Pseudotumor cerebri: This describes an increase in fluid pressure surrounding the brain. The name refers to the fact that it may cause symptoms similar to those of a brain tumor, including headaches. Some people with SLE may develop pseudotumor cerebri due to a blood clot resulting from APS.
  • Aseptic meningitis: This refers to inflammation of the meninges that does not occur due to infection. Although rare, lupus is one possible cause of aseptic meningitis. Additionally, using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause aseptic meningitis, and people with lupus are at a higher risk of this side effect from NSAIDs.
  • Lupus headaches: Some people may experience headaches during a flare of their lupus. Researchers are unsure of the cause but suggest it may be due to how lupus can affect blood vessels.

However, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, a headache itself is a controversial symptom of lupus. Researchers are currently unsure if lupus causes headaches or if they occur alongside lupus.

When occurring as a symptom of lupus, headaches are difficult to manage. This is because it is challenging to identify the cause behind the symptom.

Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can help with both preventing and managing headaches, whether they occur due to lupus or other reasons. A healthcare professional can offer advice to support a person’s individual needs.

Alternative methods of managing headaches can include:

A person should speak with a doctor before starting an alternative treatment plan.

Lupus symptoms tend to intensify during flare-ups. To reduce the chances of a flare-up causing headaches, a person should follow their treatment plan and get plenty of rest. Additionally, people should treat symptoms as soon as they occur to lessen the risk of them worsening.

Other ways people can reduce the chances of developing headaches include:

A person can also try to recognize and avoid potential triggers for headaches. For example, a person may find they experience migraine after eating certain foods.

It is very important to contact a doctor as soon as possible if a person with lupus develops a persistent headache. A doctor needs to be able to identify the cause to treat it effectively. If the headache results from inflammation in the brain, it can be serious without medical assistance.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause a broad range of symptoms, affecting people in different ways. Headaches can occur in individuals with lupus as the condition affects almost any organ in the body, including the brain. However, headaches may be an indirect symptom, occurring as a result of other symptoms.

Different headaches can result from lupus. However, the term lupus headache typically refers to the discomfort a person experiences during a lupus flare. If an individual develops a persistent headache, they should consult a doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.