Migraines Not Linked to Cognitive Decline

Teri Robert @trobert Health Guide
  • Given the chain of events that occurs in the brain during a Migraine attack and how "fuzzy" Migraines can make us feel, there has been some concern about whether Migraine contributes to cognitive decline in women as we age. The results of a new study provide good news on this subject.

    The study

    Study objective:

    "To evaluate the association between migraine and cognitive decline among women."1

    Study methods:

    • Participants were 6,349 women ages 65 and older who participated in the Women's Health Study and provided information about Migraine status at enrollment and participated in cognitive testing during follow-up. (The Women's Health Study was a clinical trial or nearly 40,000 women designed to test the effects of low-dose aspirin and vitamin E in preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer. Enrollment was in 1992-1995 with the trial running until 2004. The participants are still being followed in an observational study that has been providing data for other valuable studies.)
    • Participants were divided into four groups:
      • no history of Migraine
      • Migraine with aura
      • Migraine without aura
      • past history of Migraine (history of Migraine, but no Migraines in the year immediately prior to enrollment in the study)
    • In 1998, these participants were enrolled in a cognitive subgroup of the Women's Health Study and completed an initial cognitive assessment.
    • Two follow-up assessments were performed, each approximately two years apart.

    Study results:

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    • Participants with Migraine with aura did not have significantly different rates of cognitive decline in any of the cognitive scores compared to participants with no history of Migraine.
    • Compared to those with no history of Migraine, participants with Migraine without aura did not have significantly different rates of cognitive decline in any of the cognitive scores.
    • Participants with a history of Migraine did not have significantly different rates than participants with no history of Migraine.

    Study conclusion:

    "In this prospective cohort of women, migraine status was not associated with faster rates of cognitive decline."1

    Researcher / physician comments:


    Study researcher Pamela Rist commented:

    "Previous studies on migraines and cognitive decline were small and unable to identify a link between the two. Our study was large enough to draw the conclusion that migraines, while painful, are not strongly linked to cognitive decline.


    Compared with women with no history of migraine, those who experienced migraine with or without aura did not have significantly different rates of cognitive decline. This is an important finding for both physicians and patients. Patients with migraine and their treating doctors should be reassured that migraine may not have long term consequences on cognitive function."3

    In an email interview, Dr. Elizabeth Loder, Migraine specialist and president of the American Headache Society, told me:

    "It's an important and carefully done study that should be reassuring to people with migraine and their doctors. It is natural to wonder whether a brain disorder like migraine might increase the chance of developing other neurological problems over time. For example, we know that people who have migraine with aura are slightly more likely to experience ischemic stroke. This is a large study with good initial information on migraine and good quality follow-up information on cognitive problems. From my point of view it provides strong evidence that people with migraine do not need to worry that their risk of cognitive decline is higher than people without migraine."2

    Summary and comments:


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    Previous studies on Migraine and cognitive decline were too small to be conclusive, so they raised as many questions as they answered. This study was large enough to truly address the question of whether Migraine contributes to cognitive decline in women.


    This study is also a great example of how much valuable data and good can come from studies like the Women's Health Study. It's no surprise to see Dr. Tobias Kurth involved in this study. He seems to excel at getting the most data possible out of studies.


    This study is good news indeed. Still, it doesn't mean that we should let up on our efforts to manage our Migraines as effectively as possible.





    1 Rist, Pamela M.; Kang, Jae H.; Buring, Julie E.; Glymour, M. Maria; Grodstein, Fran; Kurth, Tobias. "Migraine and cognigive decline among women: prospective cohort study." BMJ 2012;345:e5027 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e5027


    2 Email interview with Dr. Elizabeth Loder. August 10, 2012.


    3 Press Release. "Good News: Migraines Hurt Your Head But Not Your Brain." Brigham and Women's Hospital. Boston. August 9, 2012.

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    Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape© Teri Robert, 2012.
    Last updated August 14, 2012.

Published On: August 14, 2012