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Headaches Accompanying Lupus Often Not Disease-Related, Study Finds

Nor are they linked to medical treatment, researchers say

MONDAY, Oct. 28, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Headaches are common in people with lupus, but are not linked to disease activity, according to a new study.

Researchers reviewed records for more than 1,700 people with lupus, an autoimmune disease that can damage skin, joints and organs, and looked at the headaches they experienced over a number of years. The investigators found that 18 percent of the patients had headaches at the time of diagnosis, but that proportion increased to 58 percent after 10 years.

Headaches were linked to a lower health-related quality of life, but were independent of treatment specific to lupus and were not associated with disease activity or lupus medications such as steroids, antimalaria drugs, and immune system-suppressing drugs, according to the study published Oct. 28 in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

"While lupus patients with headaches reported lower quality of life, the majority of cases resolved on their own without lupus-specific therapies," wrote lead author Dr. John Hanly, of Dalhousie University and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and colleagues.

Prior studies have reported that between 24 percent and 72 percent of lupus patients suffered headaches. This large range may be due to the lack of a uniform definition of headache, Hanly said.

Dr. Michael Lockshin, of Weill Cornell Medical College and Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said the findings "strongly suggest that lupus headache is not a sign of disease activity, but may be linked to other neurological manifestations." As a result, the current headache criterion in guidelines used to evaluate lupus flares is no longer useful and should be discarded, he writes in an accompanying journal editorial.

More information

The Lupus Foundation of America has more about lupus.

SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatism, news release, Oct. 28, 2013
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