No Cognitive Problems from Migraines

Migraines in women not linked to cognitive decline despite brain changes over time

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) It is challenging to make sense out of the brain's mysteries. This is especially true in understanding how migraines might affect the brain. But researchers are learning more.

A recent study found that migraines in women are not linked to declines in thinking skills. Women with migraines do tend to have more changes in their brains.

But these changes do not seem to affect their minds. The men with migraines did not show brain changes, increases in lesions or cognitive changes.

"Ask a therapist about migraine treatments."

The study, led by Inge H. Palm-Meinders, MD, of the Department of Radiology at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, aimed to find out whether there was a link between migraines and cognitive decline.

The researchers tracked 286 men and women ranging from 42 to 72 years old from 2000 through 2009, when all the individuals were given magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains. The group was predominantly female (about 70 percent), and included 203 individuals who suffered from migraines. The other 83 individuals did not suffer migraines.

The researchers were looking for possible changes or increases in lesions on the participants' brains and then assessed the participants' thinking skills.

In their comparisons, the researchers accounted for the participants' age, gender, high blood pressure, diabetes and educational level.

The researches did find some differences between the brains of the women who experienced migraines and those who didn't. More of the women who had migraines (77 percent) had a higher number of "hyperintensities" on the MRI scans than women who didn't have migraines (60 percent).

These are bright white spots that show up on the scans and which naturally increase as a person ages but which have been weakly linked to some neurological disorders. But the increases in these areas did not seem to match up with how often the women with migraines got the bad headaches.

The researchers also found more lesions on the brains of women who had migraines, but the increase could have been due to chance and was not linked to how many migraines the women got.

Similarly, tests of the women's memory, concentration and attention did not differ between the women who had migraines and more lesions and the women who did not have migraines.

Since scientists aren't sure what the bright spots on the MRI scan mean, this will require further research.

So overall, the women who had migraines did have more changes in their brains and more brain lesions, but these did not appear linked to how often they got migraines and had no apparent effect on the women's cognitive abilities.

The study was published November 14 in JAMA. The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Netherlands Heart Foundation, Spinoza 2009 from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute on Aging.

Three authors declared they have received research support or financial compensation for services rendered with a range of different pharmaceutical companies.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 15, 2012
Last Updated:
May 7, 2013