Migraine with Aura – Migraine without Aura – both are serious conditions. But one of the biggest questions is, what kind of permanent damage can migraine do to you? And just how serious can that be?
One area of focus here has been changes in white matter in the brain. We know that your chances of having more white matter lesions increases with both types of migraine, though the risk is higher with migraine with aura.
White matter lesions (WML) are not necessarily something to worry about. Everyone tends to get them throughout their lives, and you’ll probably never know it.
WML may not be a cause for concern (a good explanation here), but they have been associated with some issues, including decreased blood flow to the brain.
A study published last month measured resting cerebral blood flow in patients with migraine and WML.
The group that had significantly lower blood flow was the group with migraine with aura, and a high number of white matter lesions.
As you might guess intuitively, better blood flow in the brain may indeed improve your thinking power. A study in 2009 studied just that, particularly in young, healthy patients. A higher resting cerebral blood flow was associated with better cognitive performance.
We’re a long way from saying that migraine automatically and always reduces brain power (we’re talking about brain power in between attacks, not brain function during attacks, which is affected a lot!). This is only a small piece of the puzzle as we try to understand just how migraine affects the brain, and what kind of damage it does over time.
As further studies are done, it’s probably best to continue thinking in terms of the “risk” of migraine damage. Migraine may increase your risk for other problems, so it’s important to a) take migraine seriously and treat it as early as possible and b) focus on living a healthy lifestyle overall.