Migraines are severe headaches that can incapacitate an individual for a period of time. However, a new study has reported that the condition may have long-lasting effects on the brain’s structure. Researchers affiliated with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark published their results were published online on August 28 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“Traditionally, migraine has been considered a benign disorder without long-term consequences for the brain,” explained study author Messoud Ashina, MD, PhD. He added, “Our review and meta-analysis study suggests that the disorder may permanently alter brain structure in multiple ways.” He and his colleagues found that migraine raised the risk of brain lesions, white matter abnormalities and altered brain volume compared to people without the disorder. The association was even stronger in those with migraine with aura.
A meta-analysis is the compilation of data from several studies to clarify a point. In this case, the researchers reviewed six population-based studies and 13 clinic-based studies to see whether people who experienced migraine or migraine with aura had an increased risk of brain lesions, silent abnormalities, or brain volume changes on MRI brain scans, compared to those without the conditions. They found that migraine with aura increased the risk of white matter brain lesions by 68% and migraine with no aura increased the risk by 34%, compared to those without migraine. The risk for infarct-like abnormalities increased by 44% for those with migraine with aura compared to those without aura. (An infarct is an area of tissue that has been destroyed by lack of blood flow.) Brain volume changes were more common in people with migraine and migraine with aura than those with no migraines.
Dr. Ashina explained, “Migraine affects about 10-15% of the general population and can cause a substantial personal, occupational and social burden. We hope that through more study, we can clarify the association of brain structure changes to attack frequency and length of the disease. We also want to find out how these lesions may influence brain function.”
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 26,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. To learn more about migraine, click on this link.
According to UCLA Health System, migraines are distinguished from other types of headaches by the fact that symptoms other than pain occur with the headache. Nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and other visual disturbances are common migraine symptoms.
Migraines are also unique in that they have distinct phases. Not all individuals experience each phase, however. The phases of a migraine headache may include:
- Premonition phase. A change in mood or behavior that may occur hours or days before the headache.
- Aura phase. A group of visual, sensory, or motor symptoms that immediately precede the headache. Examples include hallucinations, numbness, changes in speech, and muscle weakness.
- Headache phase. Period during the actual headache. Throbbing pain occurs on one or both sides of the head. Sensitivity to light and motion is common, as are depression, fatigue, and anxiety.
- Headache resolution phase. Pain lessens during this phase, but may be replaced with fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Some individuals feel refreshed after an attack, while others do not.
Migraine classification helps to guide treatment. The following categories help to narrow down the classification process:
- Migraine without aura. This more common type of migraine does not include an aura phase (symptoms that come just before the headache).
- Migraine with aura. Fewer migraine sufferers have this type of migraine, which is preceded by aura symptoms, such as a flashing light or zigzag lines. These symptoms usually appear within 30 minutes before an attack.