Should Doctors watch for “Cognitive” Problems in Migraine Patients?

Many people wonder just how much migraine affects their ability to think. And one thing is very clear – it does. Researchers who have completed a new study are calling doctors to pay more attention.

There is no doubt that migraine affects your ability to think during an attack. That means trouble thinking, remembering, processing information, and learning in general (see Is Your Brain “Slower” During A Migraine Attack?.

That much is obvious to anyone who has had an attack.

Trouble Thinking with Migraine Disease?But the other question is, how much does migraine affect your thinking between attacks? We do know that migraine, as a disease, affects your life all the time in various ways. But what about cognitive skills? Does your ability to think go downhill over the years?

Now the general consensus seems to be – no. As a matter of fact, some research has shown that migraine patients have less decline in this area than other people. And that’s because you read intelligent articles like those here at Headache and Migraine News. (Hah! Sorry, couldn’t resist. Then again, maybe all the research we have to do does help!)

You can read more about that in So we’re smart people with brain damage?

But the research is still weak in this area, which is why the studies continue.

A study from Italy in the Journal of Headache Pain was published last month, studying cognitive and psychological symptoms in migraine patients. The patients were not taking medications for migraine, and they were not having an attack when they were tested.

So – according to this study, do migraine patients (in this case, migraine without aura) have cognitive problems in between attacks?

The answer? Yes – some.

Interestingly enough, the study did not find a lot of psychological problems in these patients, such as anxiety and depression. At least, nothing drastically different from the general population. We do know that these types of problems are highly associated with migraine – but those with major depressive disorders were excluded from the study.

Cognitive problems were not severe, but they were there. Problems with memory, attention, ability to plan, and so forth, were all affected.

These problems were significant enough to show up in the study, but not significant enough to be “clinical”, which may explain why they aren’t noticed more often.

The study also found that when migraine attacks were more disabling, there were more cognitive problems between attacks.

The researchers concluded:

Drug-naïve MwoA patients are characterized by subtle cognitive dysfunctions and low percentage of behavioural symptoms. The results support the importance of searching for subclinical cognitive disturbances in patients with MwoA, who deserve to be followed-up to verify whether they develop clinically relevant disorders over time.

Cognitive dysfunctions and psychological symptoms in migraine without aura: a cross-sectional study. (abstract)

Dr. William Young, who was not involved in the study, commented that it would be wise for doctors to check for various causes of cognitive problems. “Check the thyroid, check blood chemistries, and make sure he or she doesn’t have a vitamin deficiency.” Also, once you’ve ruled out other causes – treat the migraine! The “thinking” problems may go away as migraine is successfully treated.

Do you feel that your “thinking” ability has gone downhill since your diagnosis with migraine? Has your doctor done any tests to try to find the cause?

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1 comment… add one
  • Marian Proctor Sep 19, 2016

    My brain definitely doesn’t function as well during a migriane attack, with or without aura. It impairs my ability to function in many ways. It’s bound to have an effect when suffering so much pain, it takes the edge off normal though processes.

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