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Migraine with Aura Linked to Late-Life Brain Lesions

by Teri Robert, Lead Expert

Until recently, Migraine was considered to be an episodic disease with no long-term consequences or effects. In the last few years, however, we've seen reports of studies suggesting that Migraine may well be associated with changes in the brain and may be a progressive disease. (See Is Migraine a Progressive Brain Disease? and Yes, Migraines Can Cause Brain Damage.

A new study funded**, in part, by the Migraine Research Foundation and published in JAMA confirms some earlier findings. Before we panic, however, let's take a good look at the study, it's implications, and where we go from here.

Study objective:

"To determine whether individuals not reporting headache compared with individuals reporting migraine symptoms, particularly aura, in midlife are at increased risk of late-life infarct-like lesions* found on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) without consideration of clinical symptoms."1

Study methods:

  • A group of 4,689 study participants (2,693 women and 1,996 men) were followed from 1967 through 2006.

  • The participants were interviewed regarding Migraine symptoms in mid-life.

  • Subject ages ranged from 33 years to 65 years.

  • Between 2002 and 2006, MRIs of the brain were performed on participants.

  • Participants reporting headaches were classified as having Migraine without aura, Migraine with aura, or non-Migraine headaches after being surveyed about Migraine symptoms including nausea, unilateral location, photophobia,
    visual disturbance, and numbness.

  • Full cardiovascular risk assessments were completed at both the beginning (1967) and end of the study period.

Study main outcome measure:

"Presence of infarct-like lesions (total) and specifically located in the cortical, subcortical, and cerebellar regions."1

Study results:

  • Infarct-like lesions were present in 39.3% of men and 24.6% of women.
  • Prevalence of cerebellar lesions in women with migraine with aura was 23.0 percent vs. 14.5 percent for women not reporting headaches.
  • There was no statistically significant difference in prevalence of these lesions in men.
  • Migraine without aura and nonmigraine headache were not associated with an increased risk.
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