Migraines Linked To Structural Changes In Brain

08/28/2013 04:47 pm ET
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Migraines may have more of an effect on the physical brain than previously thought, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark reviewed 19 previously conducted studies to find that migraine is associated with actual changes to the structure of the brain. Specifically, they're linked with altered brain volume and increased risks of brain lesions (kind of like "scar spots" on the brain) and white matter abnormalities.

However, it's important to note that "the pathogenesis and clinical significance of these abnormalities is unclear," the researchers wrote in the study. "These abnormalities are reported to increase with migraine frequency, which may represent a form of anatomic progression of the disorder."

"Migraine affects about 10 to 15 percent of the general population and can cause a substantial personal, occupational and social burden," study researcher Dr. Messoud Ashina, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement. "We hope that through more study, we can clarify the association of brain structure changes to attack frequency and length of the disease. We also want to find out how these lesions may influence brain function."

The study, published in the journal Neurology, is based on six population-based studies and 13 clinic-based studies. Researchers found that having migraine with aura, in particular, was linked with an increased risk of white matter brain lesions -- 68 percent higher compared with people who don't experience migraines -- while migraine without aura raised white matter brain lesion risk by 34 percent. People who experience migraine with aura also had a 44 percent higher risk of infarct-like lesions, which are another kind of brain lesion, compared with people who experience migraines without aura.

The researchers also noted that people who experienced migraine with aura were more likely to experience changes in brain volume, compared with people who don't experience migraines.

Indeed, past research has also shown a link between migraine and brain lesions (which are changes to the white matter of the brain). A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that these lesions may develop at a higher rate among female migraineurs than women who don't get migraines. However, that study didn't show any cognitive differences between people with migraines and people without migraines. For more on brain lesions, click here.

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