Migraine Study Reveals Evidence of Possible Changes to Brain

  • Migraine and Brain ChangesResearch published yesterday by the journal Neurology shows there is a link between Migraine and the risk of three specific types of structural changes within the brain. But what does this actually mean for patients?


    While this evidence may sound frightening to patients who suffer Migraine, more research needs to be done before we know the implications of these particular structural changes and how they relate to the function of the patients who have them, as well as the deeper details of those patients who are at greater risk.


    Does frequency or severity play a part? How about the length of time the patient has experienced their Migraines? Genetics? We don’t know. Studies like this help to lay the foundation for more detailed looks at what is happening.

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    Although it’s scary to receive a diagnosis of structural changes, some of these changes have been researched before, and as yet, have not been found not to affect the function of patients who have them. Now, we have more perspective. You are aware that these changes may not ultimately affect the function of patients who find they have them, so let’s talk about what the study actually said and what it means:


    Research Details

    The research itself looked at several studies together. They used the information they found in many studies done by many researchers, and put it all together to try to give us a more complete and diverse picture about this fairly mysterious situation. This is a great way to analyze data, because it helps to minimize questions of bias, etc., that can sometimes come up with single studies, and it utilizes a broader range of patients and their data.


    This study included patients who had Migraine with aura and patients who had Migraine without aura, as well as controls that did not have Migraine.


    Three types of structural changes were analyzed: white matter abnormalities, infarct-like lesions, and changes in white and grey matter volume. All of these did appear to be significantly more common in patients with these two types of Migraine than in controls (patients without Migraine). The strongest correlation however, was in patients who have Migraine with aura.

    • Patients with white matter abnormalities were more likely to have Migraine with aura, but not Migraine without aura.

    • Risk for infarct-like lesions was greater for Migraine with aura than Migraine without aura.

    • Changes in volume of brain tissue was more common in Migraine patients with and without aura over controls.

    Summary and implications:

    Sometimes, research like this can leave patients and their loved ones stunned and feeling helpless. Important to remember, is that each of these studies is like a piece to the Migraine puzzle, and the more pieces we have, the clearer the picture becomes. The information here is not a whole, but a part of the whole. This information is important to us though, because it helps to remind us why it's is so important to pay attention to our disease.


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    Appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and management to keep our Migraine attacks to a minimum are things over which many of us have some control. We already know ignoring our Migraines is not helpful. Not adding insult to injury by adding medication overuse headache to the mix is something we can control. Maximizing our health so we can hopefully minimize the chance that we end up with further problems is also in our control.


    Have you and your doctor discussed your own personal plan of attack for getting and keeping the best control over your Migraines?


    Please post a comment with suggestions, questions, and comments so we can discuss them.





    1 Bashir, Asma, MD; Lipton, Richard B., MD; Ashina, Sait, MD; Ashina, Messoud, MD, PhD. "Migraine and structural changes in the brain." Neurology. Early View. August 28, 2013.     


    2 Press Release. "Migraine May Permanently Change Brain Structure." American Academy of Neurology. August 28, 2013.


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    © Ellen Schnakenberg, 2013.
    Last updated August 30, 2013.

Published On: August 30, 2013