Can Migraine Protect Memory?

by Teri Robert, MyMigraineConnection Lead Expert

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Many of us with Migraine disease have questioned whether Migraine is affecting our memory and cognitive function. Certainly, many of us have experienced remembering very little during a Migraine attack. There have been some studies that showed no association between Migraine and cognitive functioning, and others showing that Migraineurs show deficiencies in tasks involving attention, verbal ability, and memory. The studies showing deficiencies would seem to be borne out by some showing that Migraineurs have alterations in cerebral blood flow and are at increased risk for subclinical (causing no symptoms) brain lesions and stroke.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have released surprising study results. Women with a lifetime history of Migraine showed less of a performance decline over time on cognitive tests than women who didn’t have Migraines. Researchers say medications for Migraine, diet and behavior changes may play a role in helping women with Migraine protect their memory.

For the community-based study, 1,448 women, of whom 204 had Migraine, underwent a series of cognitive tests in 1993 and again approximately 12 years later.

The authors of the study concluded, "Migraineurs, specifically those with aura, exhibited less decline on cognitive tests over time versus nonmigraineurs. For the Mini-Mental State Examination, these effects were only apparent among those who were older than 50 years."

At the first assessment in 1993, women with Migraine performed worse on cognitive tests, such as word recall. However, retesting 12 years later showed that their performance declined 17 percent less over time than women without Migraine. Women over age 50 with Migraine showed the least amount of cognitive decline on a test used to assess cognitive functioning. Among those younger than 50 years, women with Migraine with aura declined at the same rate as nonmigraineurs.

“Some medications for Migraine headaches, such as ibuprofen, which may have a protective effect on memory, may be partially responsible for our findings, but it’s unlikely to explain this association given we adjusted for this possibility in our study and the medications showed no indication of a significant protective effect,” said study author Amanda Kalaydjian, PhD, MS, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.

Dr. Kalaydjian says another factor that needs to be explored is the possibility that women with Migraine may change their diet or behavior in some way that might improve cognition. “For example, alternative treatment for Migraine includes adequate sleep, as well as behavioral and relaxation techniques, and a reduction in caffeine,” said Dr. Kalaydjian.

“Despite these theories, it seems more likely that there may be some underlying biological mechanism, such as changes in blood vessels or underlying differences in brain activity, which results in decreased cognitive decline over time,” said Dr. Kalaydjian. “More research is needed to fully understand how Migraine affects cognition.”

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