A Roller Coaster Ride Leads To Better Migraine Understanding

roller coaster

Not everyone enjoys roller coaster rides. For some people they just induce nausea and dizziness, and for those who suffer from migraines there’s a good reason for this – one which a new study from a team of university researchers in Germany can help to explain, and one which may prove to be helpful in developing new migraine treatments.

The team put twenty participants who experienced migraines, and twenty participants who didn’t, on a virtual roller coaster, and then monitored their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they watched the videos to track their neurological activity. After the virtual rides the participants were also surveyed about their dizziness, motion sickness, and other symptom levels. No migraines were experienced during the virtual roller coaster rides.

The researchers found that 65% of the participants with migraines experienced dizziness, while only 30% of the participants without migraines did. For motion sickness, the questionnaires revealed that participants with migraines had an average score of 47 on the intensity scale of 1-180, while the non-migraine participants had an average score of 24. The feelings of nausea were also longer lasting for the migraine participants. 

Using the fMRI scans, the researchers were able to see changes in nerve cell activity based on blood flow to different areas of the brain. Participants with migraines had increased activity in five areas of the brain, and decreased activity in two other areas – all of which could relate to abnormal transmission of visual, auditory and sensory information within the brain.

While interesting to see the difference in experiences between migraine sufferers and non-sufferers, the main point of interest is why this study may be useful for helping to treat migraines.

Neurologist Arne May from the University of Hamburg had this to say:  “People with migraine often complain of dizziness, balance problems and misperception of their body’s place in space during migraine. By simulating a virtual roller coaster ride, our study found that some of these problems are not only magnified in people who experience migraine, but they are also associated with changes in various areas of the brain. By identifying and pinpointing these changes, our research could lead to a better understanding of migraine which could in turn lead to the development of better treatments.”

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