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.
- Migraine May Permanently Change Brain Structure
- Migraines can alter brain structure permanently
- Migraines Linked to Changes in Brain Structure