Does Migraine Change Your Brain?

A new meta-study confirms that – yes – migraine does seem to change your brain.

This study was making the news rounds late last month.  I didn’t comment on it right away, because in a sense it isn’t really news.  A “meta-study” is basically a review of previous studies, and we’ve shared much of the information from those studies here before.

Yes, those with migraine disease seem to have different brains – some of the differences are likely from birth, but others may come as a result of migraine itself.

It’s a little tricky to confirm cause and effect here, but this study is successfully drawing more attention to the connection and hopefully will lead to more study in the future.

Many of the statistics won’t mean a lot to the layperson, but let’s take as an example “white matter lesions”.  Migraine with aura increased the risk of white matter lesions in the brain by 68%.  Migraine without aura increased the risk by 34%.

The study authors summarize this way:

The present review suggests that migraine may be a risk factor for structural changes in the brain.

In comparison with non-migraine controls, migraineurs have more WMAs (white matter abnormalities), ILLs (infarct-like lesions), and volumetric changes in GM (grey matter) and WM (white matter) regions.

All this may sound startling, but most doctors will tell you it’s not something to worry about in most cases.  You basically could have an increased risk for something that most other people have to some extent anyway.  For example, decreased brain volume is a sign of aging.  Maybe your brain is aging slightly faster than someone else’s.  Slightly.

However, although one of these things may not be reason to worry, we are getting a bigger picture – that migraine could be doing some long term damage to the brain.  How does that impact what treatments work?  Could it increase your risk for stroke?  Should that change the medication you’re prescribed?

So we’re just confirming what we already knew.  Yes, migraine is serious.  Yes, it may do long term damage.  It’s probably not going to significantly shorten your life, but you should be treating it and not ignoring it.

And remember, there are probably other reasons why migraine is dangerous – reasons that are much more important.  The impact of pain on your body.  The disabling impact of migraine – loss of time with family, loss of income.  Comorbid disorders.

So do look for good treatment, do take migraine seriously.  But don’t let these news headlines lead you to panic.

Check out Beyond the hype – migraine and brain lesions

More on this study:

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9 comments… add one
  • Kritika Ponia Sep 18, 2013

    This scared me! SO much!

  • Sam TheGrey Sep 18, 2013


  • Suzanne Gregg Sep 18, 2013

    Wow….how nice for us….NOT!

  • Rhiannon Morgayne Sep 18, 2013

    I’ve known this for a while, good to see that the media is admitting it finally..

  • Julie Hindle-Cushen Sep 20, 2013

    my MRI shows lots of these lesions which are apparently common to chronic migraine- the neuro says they are not sure what this means. I know my memory isn’t what it once was.

    • Charlott Jun 17, 2016

      I am glad I read this as I was worried about my memory. I have been lately forgetting just names and things I should know and it has been bothering why I didn’t know them now I understand. I was really scared I was getting dementia or something.

  • Susie Oct 16, 2016

    Things make a lot more sense now. At least I’m not completely nuts.

  • Paula Oct 11, 2017

    Just had one with aura.that explains the mri that had small cyst in frontal lobe and doc said dont worry.

  • Monica Dec 4, 2017

    I thought migraines did cause some kind of damage it is still scary. I am just over having them most of the days of the week but my Dr has put me on beta blockers so hopefully that helps.

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