When Migraines Hurt

Migraines are painful but do not lead to a loss of mental function

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Having a migraine is enough to deal with on its own, without the worry that it may be a symptom of something bigger.

Past research studies have linked migraines to increased risk of brain lesions, a cause of dementia and cognitive decline. This has led some science and medical professionals to speculate that it may be a progressive brain disorder.

But is there really a reason to worry?

A recent research study evaluates the link between migraine and cognitive decline in women. Fortunately, the study found no association between chronic headache disorder and declined mental function.

"Discuss migraines with your doctor."

Lead author Pamela Rist, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and team looked at migraine history and cognitive ability in 6349 women over the age of 65. The women were chosen from the Women’s Health Study, a larger study of 39876 women that ended in 2004.

The women were assessed on the severity, characteristics and frequency of migraines at the start of the study. The women were divided into four groups based on their responses.

Of the 6349 women, 853 had no migraine history, 195 had migraine with aura, 248 had migraine without aura, and 410 had a past history of migraine but had not had a migraine headache within the past year.

An initial cognitive assessment and two follow-up assessments two years apart were conducted over the telephone. The assessment was an adapted form of the mini-mental state examination and included five tests that measured fluency and memory.

The researchers found no more cognitive decline in those who experienced migraine than those who did not.

However, a faster rate of cognitive decline was seen in those who experienced migraine with aura and had past cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke.

Several limitations exist to the study. Migraine details were self reported and contain some inherent variability of standards.

In addition, there was no information collected regarding the duration of the migraines, the study involved a limited range of study participants and a short follow up period that may not have been long enough to capture accurate results.

The Women’s Health Study was funded by grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.

The study was published in August in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The current study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Aging.

Some researchers of the study have received funding or support from the National Institute of Aging and the French National Research Agency, the Rose Traveling Fellowship Program in Chronic Disease Epidemiology and Biostatistics from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health the US National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, the US National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program, the MacArthur Foundation Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health, the Milton Fund for Harvard University Junior Faculty, the Migraine Research Foundation, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, BMJ and the American Academy of Neurology.

Some researchers also receive support from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Dow Corning, Bayer HealthCare, Natural Source Vitamin E Association, the California Strawberry Council, Merck, Allergan and MAP Pharmaceutical.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 19, 2012
Last Updated:
August 24, 2012