Migraines Associated With Parkinson’s

Migraines with aura associated with more than double the risk of later developing the neurological disorder

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Migraines can make daily tasks a challenge. But people who get intense migraines may also face a heightened risk of Parkinson’s disease later in life.

Although the causes of migraines remain a mystery, new research found that people who had migraines with visual disturbances had a much higher risk of Parkinson’s than patients without headaches.

"Talk to a neurologist if you have migraine symptoms."

For their research, Ann Scher, PhD, of Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, MD, and colleagues studied 5,620 patients who were between 33 and 65 years old. They followed them for 25 years to see whether headaches and migraines had an effect on Parkinson's risk.

Parkinson’s is a neurological disease that progressively affects movement. Migraines, another neurological disorder, are intense headaches and yawning, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound and, in some cases, what’s called an aura.

An aura is a visual disturbance described as flashing lights, zigzag lines and even a loss of vision.

Dr. Scher and team found that patients who had migraines with aura were more than twice as likely as people who didn't have headaches to later have Parkinson’s.

Migraine is a very common disease and hence will co-occur with other common diseases such as Parkinson's," said Chaouki K. Khoury, MD, MS, Associate Professor of Neurology and Child Neurology at Texas A&M Health Sciences Center.

"This study, like many others looking at other associations, is just identifying an epidemiological trend, where patients who have migraine with aura also have a higher incidence of Parkinson's disease," said Dr. Khoury, who also serves as Director of Neurology Education and Director of Headache Medicine for Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and Our Children's House at Baylor.

"This does not speak at all to any causality or association between the two diseases, and as the study authors report, this would require further investigation. It does raise a new question, however, and opens the door to new research to evaluate whether there is any causal relationship or whether the two share common pathophysiologic mechanisms," said Dr. Khoury.

"So for now, we cannot make any clinical inferences from this," he said.

According to Dr. Scher, “This new possible association is one more reason research is needed to understand, prevent and treat the condition."

Of the study group, 3,924 had no headaches, 1,028 had headaches with no migraine symptoms, 238 had migraines and 430 had migraines with aura.

Of the group with auras, 2.4 percent later had Parkinson’s. In the group with no headaches, 1.1 percent later had Parkinson’s.

The study authors also found that women with migraines with aura were more likely to have a family history of Parkinson’s.

"While the history of migraine is associated with an increased risk for Parkinson's, that risk is still quite low," Dr. Scher said.

The study was published online Sept. 17 in Neurology.

The National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, Icelandic Heart Association and Icelandic Parliament funded the study. One study author disclosed serving on a private company’s scientific advisory board and as an editor for two professional publications.

Review Date: 
September 15, 2014
Last Updated:
September 18, 2014