Migraines can cause permanent brain damage, especially in those who experience flashing lights before the onset, a study has found.
Experts have discovered that migraines, which affect 10 to 15 per cent of the population, raise the risk of “white matter” brain lesions and altered brain volume compared with people without the disorder.
The association was even stronger in those with migraine with aura — when there is a warning sign before the migraine begins. Dr Messoud Ashina, one of the study’s authors from the University of Copenhagen, said: “Traditionally, migraine has been considered a benign disorder without long-term consequences for the brain. Our review and meta-analysis study suggests that the disorder may permanently alter brain structure in multiple ways.”
Dr Ashina reviewed 19 studies to see whether people who experienced migraine had an increased risk of brain lesions, silent abnormalities or brain volume changes on MRI brain scans compared with those without the condition.
The results showed that migraine with aura increased the risk of white matter brain lesions by 68 per cent and migraine with no aura increased the risk by 34 per cent.
The risk for brain abnormalities increased by 44 per cent for those with migraine with aura compared with those without aura. Brain volume changes were also more common in people with migraine and migraine with aura than those with no migraines.
Dr Ashina hopes the study will provide insight into the lasting effects of regular migraines on the brain. He said: “Migraine can cause a substantial personal, occupational and social burden. 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.”
Another study, also featured in the journal Neurology, supported previous research which shows that migraines are more common among people with lower incomes. Migraine was found in one in five women between the age of 25 and 34 from high-income households, compared with 29 per cent of those with middle income and 37 per cent of those with low income. For men in the age range, 5 per cent in high-income households had migraine, compared with 8 per cent in middle income and 13 per cent in low income.
However, the results failed to support the theory that stress increases the rate of migraine in those on low incomes. Researchers found that while stress among those on a low income can bring migraines on in the first place, it has no effect on how long a person suffers from migraines.
Dr Walter Stewart, of Sutter Health, a not-for-profit health system in northern California, said: “A higher percentage of people have migraine in low-income groups because more people get migraine, not because people in lower income groups have migraine for a longer period of time. Because the remission rate does not differ by income, it means that the duration of time that people have migraine is not different by income level.
“These results strongly support the theory that stressors associated with lower income play an important role in the relationship between migraine and income. Identifying these factors may be a crucial step toward developing prevention strategies.”