Migraine and Parkinson's - Study Shows Link
A new study recently published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, shows that people who have migraine in middle age may be more likely to develop Parkinson's disease and restless leg syndrome in later in life. Those who have migraine with aura may be at double the risk of developing Parkinson’s, according to the study.
"In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that having migraine in middle age is related to late-life parkinsonism and a related disorder, restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED)."1
- The study utilized data from the AGES-Reykjavik cohort (born 1907–1935). who have been followed since 1967.
- 5,620 people between the ages of 33 and 65 were followed for 25 years.
- At the beginning of the study:
- a total of 3,924 of the participants had no headaches,
- 1,028 had headaches with no migraine symptoms,
- 238 had migraine with no aura, and
- 430 had migraine with aura.
- Headaches/migraines were classified based on symptoms assessed in middle age.
- From 2002 to 2006, 5,764 study participants were reexamined to assess:
- symptoms of parkinsonism,
- diagnosis of Parkinson disease (PD),
- family history of PD, and
- restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED).
- The study found that people with migraine with aura were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s than people with no headaches.
- A total of 2.4 percent of those with migraine with aura had the disease, compared to 1.1 percent of those with no headache disorder.
- People with migraine with aura had 3.6 the odds of reporting at least four of six Parkinsonian symptoms, while those with migraine with no aura had 2.3 times the odds of these symptoms.
- Overall, 19.7 percent of those with migraine with aura had symptoms, compared to 12.6 percent of those with migraine with no aura and 7.5 percent of those with no headache disorder.
- Women with migraine with aura were also more likely to have a family history of Parkinson’s disease compared to those with no headache disorder.
- Associations were independent of cardiovascular disease and MRI-evident presumed ischemic lesions.
"These findings suggest there may be a common vulnerability to, or consequences of, migraine and multiple indicators of parkinsonism. Additional genetic and longitudinal observational studies are needed to identify candidate pathways that may account for the comorbid constellation of symptoms."1
Study Author Comments:
Study author Ann I. Scher, PhD, with Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, MD, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology and American Headache Society commented:
"Migraine is the most common brain disorder in both men and women... It has been linked in other studies to cerebrovascular and heart disease. This new possible association is one more reason research is needed to understand, prevent and treat the condition."
"A dysfunction in the brain messenger dopamine is common to both Parkinson’s and RLS, and has been hypothesized as a possible cause of migraine for many years. Symptoms of migraine such as excessive yawning, nausea and vomiting are thought to be related to dopamine receptor stimulation. More research should focus on exploring this possible link through genetic studies."
“While the history of migraine is associated with an increased risk for Parkinson’s, that risk is still quite low."
Summary and Comments:
As with other studies that have shown correlations between migraine and other conditions, this study provides interesting data, but is not a reason to panic or assume that we are destined to develop Parkinson's. As with other "firsts" in research, this study indicates a need for more research.
Certainly, we should attempt to have a complete family medical history, and if there's a history of Parkinson's in our family, the results of this study are likely to raise concern. That's only natural, and the best thing any of us can do is discuss these concerns with our doctors. As Dr. Scher pointed out, more research is definitely needed, and, “While the history of migraine is associated with an increased risk for Parkinson’s, that risk is still quite low."
1 Scher, Ann I., PhD; Ross, G. Webster, MD; Sigurdsson, Sigdur, MSc; Garcia, Melissa, MPH; Gudmonsson, Larus S., PhD; Sveinbjörnsdóttir, Sigurlaug, MD; Wagner, Amy K., MD; Gudnason, Vilmundur, MD, PhD; Launer, Lenore J., PhD. "Midlife migraine and late-life parkinsonism." Neurology 2014;83:1246–1252.
2 Press Release. "Migraine in Middle Age Linked to Increased Risk of Parkinson’s, Movement Disorders Later." American Academy of Neurology. September 27, 2014.
3 Henry, Trisha. "Migraines with aura in middle age linked to Parkinson's disease." CNN.com. September 17, 2014.
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Reviewed by David Watson, MD.
© Teri Robert, 2014, • Last updated October 16, 2014.