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Migraines Linked to Permanent Changes in Brain Structure

Update Date: Aug 28, 2013 04:04 PM EDT
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Previous research found that people with smaller brains were more likely to suffer migraines and depression. Now a new study reveals that migraines themselves may be responsible for the smaller brains in sufferers.

Researchers found that migraines may permanently change brain structure and raise the risk of brain lesions, white matter abnormalities and altered brain volume.

"Traditionally, migraine has been considered a benign disorder without long-term consequences for the brain," researcher Messoud Ashina, MD, PhD, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a news release. "Our review and meta-analysis study suggests that the disorder may permanently alter brain structure in multiple ways."

The study found an even stronger link in people with migraine with aura. 

The latest research involved six population-based studies and 13 clinic-based studies.  Researchers wanted to see if suffering migraine or migraine with aura increased the risk of brain lesions, silent abnormalities or brain volume changes on MRI brain scans.

The findings revealed that migraine with aura increased the risk of white matter brain lesions by 68 percent and migraine with no aura by 34 percent. Migraines also increased the risk of infarct-like abnormalities by 44 percent.  Researchers found that brain volume changes were more common in people with migraine and migraine with aura than those with no migraines.

"Migraine affects about 10 to 15 percent of the general population and can cause a substantial personal, occupational and social burden," said Ashina. "We hope that through more study, we can clarify the association of brain structure changes to attack frequency and length of the disease. We also want to find out how these lesions may influence brain function."

The findings are published in the journal Neurology

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