The Migraine Brain: Very “Connected”

A fascinating study was released this past spring in the journal Neurology which gives us new insight into the way the “migraine brain” works.

Migraine - a connected brainAlthough migraine has been around for millennia, it’s only recently that we’ve started to uncover the progress of migraine attacks through the brain, and understand some of the mysteries of the way the body transmits messages of pain.

This study used imaging technology to look into the cerebral cortex and to measure “connections” within the brain. Comparisons were made between migraine patients and control subjects.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a neuroimaging technique that is commonly used to measure brain activity. The researchers were looking at a specific part of the cerebral cortex known as the anterior insula (AI). The AI is a part of the brain that measures and responds to stimulus that we take in via our senses.

Surprisingly, researchers found that there were unusual connections in the brain of the migraine patients. Their brains had more connections to the input of stimuli with auditory and visual centres, as well as pain centres. Essentially, there seems to be a way to “see” the extra sensitivity that many migraine patients have to light and sound.

Even more fascinating, these connections were detected when the patients were not having a migraine attack (examinations were done more than three days after and more than three days before an attack).

These images could explain why migraine patients are bothered by noises and light – even in between attacks. Would there be even stronger connections during an attack? This study, of course, doesn’t tell us.

Study author Dr. Amy R. Tso explains some of the benefits of the study, and some next steps:

Clinically, in general with migraine therapies, we only have medications that target the whole disorder … If you identify an imaging marker, then you could use the presence or absence of that to track whether patients are responding to therapeutics. …

An obvious next step is to find out if this is a marker for migraine particularly or if this is just a marker of this sensitivity, and whether it exists across all headaches that share the sensitivity.

It would be fascinating to be able to target certain aspects of migraine in the brain itself. It would also be helpful to be able to “measure” the effectiveness of treatment, even before the next migraine attack.

Dr. Tso was also interested in the connection between migraine and anxiety disorders. Many people (not all) with migraine also have an anxiety disorders – disorders with seem to have similar “connections” in the brain. This study may help us understand the connection between migraine disease and anxiety disorder, and lead to treatments that could fight both.

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7 comments… add one
  • happyweed Aug 10, 2015

    sounds reasonable to me…. when i have no migraine noises can be a trigger… and light is always an issue.. 25 years or more now and still they won’t go away/.. almost daily headaches and weekly migraines…. this is not living it is survival.. i take immigran nasal spray and disprin forte for pain relief from my migraines……i also have a very strict diet as i have food intolerances.. food being one of my main triggers..

  • Kayla McGladdery Aug 11, 2015

    I always get my migraines 2-4 days before it rain. I take imitrex at onset, but it days to go away.

  • Kayla McGladdery Aug 11, 2015

    My migraines come at days before rain. Its came to the point where I can’t keep a job. When one comes, I’m paralyzed.

  • Debbie Sep 1, 2015

    I have always been super “sensative” to noise and light. I also have high anxiety. .so it would be great to take just one medication that would help both migraines and anxiety!

  • Lorraine Sep 1, 2015

    All i know is i am done with these migraines. I have had them since age 10, i am now 53. I know what foods to avoid. I am at my wits end.. 🙁

  • Dando Sep 5, 2015

    I’ve had scintillating scotomas since I was about 6. I’m now 58. Compared to many migraine sufferers – I know I’m lucky but after 50+ years, it wears you down. Seems to me that there is a lot of research into migraine but very little in the way of breakthroughs or really effective treatment. I suspect movement may trigger my scotomas but how do you get round that? Just like light and noise, you can’t.

  • Eric Nov 2, 2015

    I am writing here for the first time. I have had Chronic daily headache with migraine for fifteen years. I have a headache 24/7 that often, 15 to 25 x per month, that becomes a full blown migraine.
    I’ve gone to neurologists, two different university migraine clinics, chiropractors, naturopathic specialists, etc. I’ve tried all the different pharmaceutical Meds recommend for migraine and for provalactic too.
    Also been on a migraine diet so as to avoid any possible food triggers.
    The only thing that works and only temporarily, is imitrex and lortab along with going to bed in a darkened room with an ice pack on my head and eventually falling asleep. Usually within three hours the migraine is gone for at least 12 hrs. Luckily sometimes I actually have 2 to 4 days with no migraine at all yet still have a headache. The headaches I can tolerate and seem like nothing compared to migraines. And with only a headache I can do almost whatever I used to do in my daily life before I ever got migraines and need no med except Tylenol. However, since most days I do end up getting a migraine and after fifteen years of this I’m finally becoming depressed and don’t know if I can keep living like this. Im really trying my very best to keep a positive mental attitude yet the constant pain along with major lifestyle change is so very hard to deal with.
    I have a super supportive wife and I feel so bad for what she has to put up with and yet she never complains. I feel guilty because she has given up a lot in order to stay married to me. I have, in the past offered her an out, and told her I understand if she needs leave me. Yet we have had and still do have a close, loving and caring relationship. With deep respect and love for one another. She is the reason I can keep going through all this pain. I know she is giving up a lot of life in order to be my soulmate and when I’m feeling good I my best to treat her extra special in every way possible. This seems to pale compared to her sacrifice! And this makes me even more depressed. It’s like a catch twenty two. How she does it is beyond me. I have no choice, me being the migaineur. But she has a choice if she wants.
    Well in light of all this, is there anyone else out there with a similar circumstances? Please let me know because I feel as if I cannot talk to anyone about this since no one can really understand this unless they experience it too.
    Also if anyone has tried some new or different product or type of therapy that works for them please let me know, as I’ve tried everything mentioned in the migraine web sites, to no avail, yet there has to be some kind of natural remedy out there somewhere. After all headache and migraine I’m sure has been a human problem forever.
    I used to keep hoping that some new med will be discovered that will stop migraine from coming back. Ever since the introduction of triptan meds I’ve at least had some life, if not the best, yet much better than the first two years before Triptans when I was in bed five to six days a week.
    My heart goes out to all you fellow men and women migraineurs. No one else can really know what it’s like for us and we wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

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