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Migraines and Brain Structure

Migraines cause periods of horrible head and neck pain, most people have thought the condition is not harmful and does not cause long-term health problems.

However, recent findings have proven that migraines might have a long-term effect on the structure of the brain, particularly when they are paired with an aura.  Some of these changes can lead to serious health problems.

A new study was just released in the online journal of Neurology. From the study it was reported that:

“This time, a meta-analysis is good, because a lot of studies on migraines are too small to be definitive, and the results are contradictory,” Dr. Richard Lipton, lead neurologist at the Montefiore Headache Center and co-author of the study, told “I expected to find some effects, but was particularly struck. We looked at three types of structural brain changes, and we found changes in all three that were statistically significant for people with migraine with aura.”

Migraine MRIBefore a migraine, some patients experience an aura. This means they might see things like spots, have numbness, or experience motor weakness.

Overall researchers found people who have migraines with or without aura had an increased risk of brain structural issues. These were seen on MRI scans. This was more dramatic in the patients who suffered from migraines with aura.

In the journal of Neurology, Lipton explained that:

“People with migraine often get MRIs, which are usually looking for some cause of migraine other than headache. But when reports come back with white matter lesions, that’s kind of scary for people. But it shouldn’t be, because as far as we know, the white matter lesions are not associated with any bad outcomes.”

Although these types of white matter lesions are probably not dangerous brain changes, they still might become a health risk.  This is because these changes indicate an interruption of blood flow in the brain, which can raise an individual’s risk for stroke.  Lipton said:

Migraines and Brain Structure“Our meta-analysis showed that the risk of these infarct-like lesions increased with how long you’ve had migraine and how many attacks you’ve had,” Lipton said. “So there’s a possibility that if you reduce migraines with aura, you might be able to reduce your risk of stroke… So try to avoid factors that trigger headaches and use medications that are preventative of migraines. One of the really fascinating things is that when migraine is well controlled, the shrinkage reverses. It’s not that the migraine is killing nerve cells, it seems that migraine is resulting in shrinkage of nerve cells.  So if frequent migraine stops, the nerve cells can grow back and replace the volume lost.  That creates another argument for reducing migraine frequency and severity with behavioral therapy. It’s a problem that causes pain and temporary interference with function, and it could have long-term consequences,” Lipton said. “So if you treat migraine better today, it will help you this week, and next month, and it may protect you in the long-term by protecting you from serious vascular problems.”

Migraines affect around 10 to 15 percent of people, and about a third of those patients suffer from the additional aura. Lipton hopes that his research encourages millions of individuals with this difficult condition to get treatment because migraines might be more than just horrible headaches.


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