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Arthritis Headaches: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Arthritis headaches, also known as cervicogenic headaches, are a symptom of an arthritic condition in the spine or neck. Aside from the headache, other symptoms are present in people with arthritis that affects the 1st, 2nd or 3rd vertebrae. Managing the headaches that come with arthritis depends on what type of arthritis is causing the headaches and what medications are already being given to the patient.

What are the symptoms of arthritis headaches?

This type of headache usually begins with neck pain. The pain gradually radiates to the back of the head and up to the crown. The pain seems to be more prevalent on one side of the head than the other and it rarely reaches the temple area. In some cases, a tingling sensation in the neck, scalp and arms or some weakness in the arms can accompany the headaches. This usually means there is a pinched nerve caused by an arthritic bone or disk degeneration. Migraine headaches are commonly misdiagnosed as a headache caused by arthritis, especially in patients who are known to have this disease. This is because there are similarities in the description of a migraine headache and that of an arthritis-related headache.

What Causes Arthritis Headaches?

There are many factors that can cause this type of headache. Doctors base the treatment plan for their patients based on which among these factors is causing the headaches.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder which has no clear cause. Since the cause of this condition has yet to be identified, there is no cure for this condition yet. This type of arthritis causes inflammation and pain in the joints, as well as in the muscles in the surrounding area. Experiencing headaches as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis may mean that the patient should seek medical attention.
  • Osteoarthritis. This is the most common type of arthritis, and is the most common cause of cervicogenic headaches. It is brought about by wear and tear of the joints. The actual cause of this condition is also unknown, but it has been related to aging.
  • Rebound headaches. Taking over-the-counter pain medication to relieve headaches on top of the prescription pain medication meant to treat and manage arthritis symptoms can lead to overmedication. Overmedicating can cause headaches we call rebound headaches. It is also possible for headaches to occur when the analgesics taken for headaches interacts with the arthritis medication in a bad way.
  • Drug Withdrawal. Since arthritis is a chronic disease, patients become dependent on the medication prescribed to them. Missing one dose can actually trigger withdrawal symptoms, one of which is headaches.

Treating Headaches Caused by Arthritis

Arthritis itself has no cure, but medications can be prescribed to manage the pain it causes. Doctors can also prescribe medications to treat the other symptoms of arthritis, such as headaches and numbness. It is important to consult a doctor before self-medicating when experiencing headaches caused by arthritis to avoid making matters worse by over medicating or experiencing bad drug interactions. For severe cases, doctors may suggest surgery or wearing a neck brace to help alleviate some of the arthritis symptoms and reduce the occurrence of headaches.

Having arthritis and experiencing headaches does not necessarily mean that what you’re experiencing is an arthritis headache. If you suspect that you’re experiencing symptoms of arthritis headaches, consult your doctor or headache specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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