Until recently migraines weren’t thought to leave a permanent mark on the brain. Yes, they’re absolutely horrendous while you’re going through them, but once they’re over they’re over. However, according to a study published in the journal Neurology, it seems that migraines may in fact leave a mark after all. Study author Dr. Messoud Ashina, a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark said that “our review and meta-analysis study suggests that the disorder may permanently alter brain structure in multiple ways.”
Dr. Ashina’s study looked at three different types of abnormalities that were detected through magnetic resonance imaging. The researchers looked at the results of six population-based studies and 13 clinic-based studies to see if migraine sufferers were more likely to have brain lesions, white matter abnormalities, infarct-like lesions (also known as silent strokes, these are changes in the brain which resemble minor strokes), or brain volume changes in the grey or white matter in the brain.
The results of Dr. Ashina’s study were that the risk of white matter brain lesions were increased by 68% for those who had migraines with aura, and 34% for those who suffered from migraines without aura. The study also found that these white matter abnormalities could occur as the result of non-migraine headaches. Another finding was that those who suffered from migraine with, and migraine without, aura were more likely to have brain volume changes.
While the study did find differences in the brains of migraine sufferers and non-migraine sufferers, the study could not say what these differences might lead to. It’s for this reason, said Dr. Ashina, that further long-term studies are needed, but there is no need to worry; the changes in the brain “showed no relationship to migraine frequency or cognitive status of patients”.
A staff neurologist from the Center for Headache and Pain at the Cleveland Clinic (who wasn’t involved in the study), has looked at the results and seeks to add further reassurance following the study’s conclusion:
“What this study does demonstrate is yes, brain changes are more common in patients with migraines and probably are more common in patients with migraine aura. The good news is that … long-term cognitive changes were not seen, even though these brain changes were apparent on imaging…I don’t think, overall, in the long term, migraine sufferers need to be concerned.”
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