Sleep Apnea, Migraines and Multiple Sclerosis: Is There a Link?
February 23, 2010
It seems like study after study is published that links two previously unlinked conditions to one another. In this study, the presence of migraines was associated with a 47% increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life. Researchers again point to a genetic wastebasket explanation, with no practical implications. In a previous post, I noted that MS was linked to heart disease. Since we know that Alzheimer's is linked to heart disease, why can't migraines be linked to heart disease or even Alzheimer's? Ultimately, if you connect all the dots of all the associations between various medical conditions, then almost every medical condition can be linked in one way or another.
My sleep-breathing paradigm easily explains the link between migraines and MS via the following mechanism: Migraines are a common symptom of poor quality sleep due to an inability to breathe properly at night. By definition, all modern humans are susceptible to these events, where only the extreme end of the spectrum is called obstructive sleep apnea. If you're not able to sleep deeply, then your entire nervous system is hypersensitive, causing an over-reaction to your senses, leading to symptoms such as headaches, TMJ, sinus pain and pressure.
MS is thought to be an autoimmune condition with flareups of inflammation and "plaques" in any part of the brain that are seen on MRI. Sleep apnea is known to cause not only chronic sympathetic nervous system overload, but also thickening of the blood with patients being prone to either diminished blood flow or small microscopic clots in the brain. Studies have shown that sleep apnea patients have multiple areas of decreased gray matter density in various parts of the brain. This could in theory lead to either "lesions" in the brain, neurotransmitter abnormalities, or hormonal dysfunction.
It makes sense that in people who have sleep-breathing problems long before they go into sleep apnea, their nervous systems are overly active (waking up too quickly), whereas sleep apnea patients' nervous systems are underactive (not waking up quickly enough). Chronic low-grade stress is also known to upregulate your immune system, leading to the classic autoimmune conditions that are often seen in people with upper airway resistance syndrome (cold hands, anxiety, fatigue, etc.).
Rather then reducing human illnesses down to genetic factors or biochemical deficiencies, it makes more sense to treat the patient as a whole person. But with modern medicine, that's not allowed. Yes, there has to be progress in medical research, but as a whole, are we going in the wrong direction? I'd like to know your opinion on this issue. Please enter your opinion in the comments box below.