Migraine sufferers may be suffering brain damage, but apparently their brains end up in better shape than most people’s. So went the paradoxes as the news stories came out the last few days.
Ok, so what’s this all about? First of all, the brain damage study, from researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. This was an animal study published in Nature Neuroscience, suggesting that brain cells become starved of oxygen. Similar damage takes place after a concussion or stroke. It may be that giving oxygen during an attack (a valid treatment, by the way) may help stop the bad effects.
This was a study done with mice, and there is certainly disagreement over how it really relates to us humans. However, we do know that there is a strong link between migraine and stroke, so this is really not all that surprising. We just need more studies to understand exactly why there is such an increased risk. Here’s an earlier post about some related studies on migraine and stroke.
At the same time, research showed that there is less cognitive decline in migraineurs than in the general population. What’s this all about?
This study, published in Neurology on April 24th, followed 1448 people over 12 years. They were given regular tests, such as word tests, to see what kind of decline there would be over the years. Most of the patients were in their late 40s and early 50s when the tests began.
It turns out that migraineurs didn’t show as quick a decline as everyone else. In fact, those who suffered migraine with aura did significantly better than their non-migraine counterparts.
This isn’t the first time results like this have shown up. For example, Neurology reported on a study in Denmark that showed life-long migraine didn’t seem to do long term damage to your ability to think.
It’s even more of a paradox because during a migraine attack, many people do suffer from cognitive problems – difficulty recalling words, troubles with memory and in general a "foggy brain".
In the end, we do know that migraine seems to do some kind of long term damage. Though it may have a minimal effect on your ability to think over time, it does increase your risk of serious damage from stroke and even heart problems. It’s important to not just stop the pain, but to stop the migraine chain-reaction that can do this damage.
For more information on the first study, read Headaches may act like tiny transient strokes. Read more about the second study in Migraine sufferers have less cognitive decline: Study.