Photo of a south eastern Asian woman sitting at a desk holding her head with a migraine. She is wearing a dark long sleeved shirt with laptop on the desk in front of her.

People who experience occasional migraine headaches may be at greater risk of developing chronic migraine headaches if they also have asthma, according to a study published online in the journal Headache, a publication of the American Headache Society.

“Migraine and asthma are disorders that involve inflammation and the activation of smooth muscle, either in blood vessels or in the airways,” says Richard Lipton, MD, director of the Montefiore Headache Center and the Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City. “Therefore, asthma-related inflammation may lead to migraine progression.”

The study, led by Vincent Martin, MD, co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Program at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute, involved 4,500 individuals. Researchers found that those diagnosed with asthma were more than twice as likely to progress to chronic migraine compared to those without asthma.

Further, the risk of worsening migraine increases with the severity of asthma symptoms, Dr. Lipton says.

Migraine headaches are chronic when they occur in an individual 15 or more days per month. About 12 percent of the U.S. population experiences migraine headaches, according to the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study (AMPP), which was directed by Dr. Lipton. Migraines are three times more common among women than men.

According to Dr. Lipton, people with asthma who experience migraine headaches should do the following:

  • Manage each condition by learning to identify and avoid triggers for asthma flares and migraine headaches. “Migraine is often triggered by hormonal changes, stress, not enough sleep and a range of dietary factors,” he says.
  • Talk with your doctor about preventive medications that can reduce the frequency of migraine headaches, especially if they increase to more than three or four per month. Review all prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins and supplements, with your healthcare team, as some might conflict. For instance, people with asthma should avoid certain migraine medications, including beta blockers (such as propranolol), which can impact lung function.