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Migraines are more than just a Headache – They also Alter Brain Structure

It has been the traditional belief that a migraine is nothing more than a severely painful headache of which the victim suffers no long-term brain damage consequences, much like normal headaches. A study published in the American Academy’s medical journal, Neurology, has since presented findings that indicate migraines may have long lasting and physically altering effects on the brain’s structure.

New research sheds light on the severity of migraines

According to scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the migraine is no longer a benign disorder, but a permanently brain-altering disorder in a variety of ways.

The University’s study has found that migraines can actually increase the risk of developing brain lesions, abnormalities in brain white matter, and alterations in brain volume, as compared to people who do not suffer migraines.

More people in the UK suffer from migraines than from diabetes, asthma, and epilepsy combined

According to the UK’s leading migraine charity, The Migraine Trust, over 8 million people in the UK suffer from migraines.

The two most common types of migraine are known as “migraine with aura” and “migraine without aura.” Migraine with aura sufferers experience changes in their sight, such as lights, dark or coloured spots, zig zags across their vision, and sparkles or stars. Other migraine symptoms include throbbing headache, heightened sensitivity to lights and sounds, nausea, vomiting, and lethargy.

A migraine brain looks different from a non-migraine brain

The University analyzed the MRI scans of six population-based migraine studies and thirteen clinic-based studies to determine if victims of migraine had an increased risk or rate of brain lesions, volume changes, and other silent abnormalities as compared to non-victims.

Results concluded that those with migraine with aura had a 68 percent increase in white matter brain lesions, and those with migraine with no aura had a 34 percent increase. The risk of infarct-abnormalities (dead tissue due to poor blood supply) showed a 44 percent increase in victims of migraine with aura as compared to those without aura. Brain volume changes were also more common in migraine sufferers than non-migraine sufferers.

It’s estimated that migraines affect from ten to fifteen percent of the global population, and are a social, occupational, personal, and economically costly burden to bear. With continued study, we can take steps to better understand just how migraines affect brain function. And with better knowledge of the mechanics of migraines, the more we’ll be able to develop targeted treatments.

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