What does your brain go through when you have a migraine? Recent studies have found it may be that the brain goes through a process much like a mini-stroke, and that surprisingly migraines may actually cause some brain damage.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center published a paper in the April 29 online edition of Nature Neuroscience describing their findings. According to them, it is extremely important to do everything possible to prevent a migraine headache, not just stop the pain. They believe the headaches “may also be acting like tiny transient strokes, leaving parts of the brain starved for oxygen and altering the brain in significant ways.” Patients need to avoid the triggers that bring on the headache, and use the medications prescribed by their doctors to prevent them.

“Normally, the focus of migraine treatment is to reduce the pain. We’re saying that migraines may be causing brain damage, and that the focus should be on prevention, which will stop not only the pain but also minimize potential damage,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and a member of the Center for Aging and Developmental Biology and the neuroscientist who led the research team. She worked closely with Takahiro Takano, Ph.D., research assistant professor, who is first author of the paper.

Nedergaard’s team combined two imaging technologies that have recently been developed in order to get a look at the events that happen in the brain of a mouse as the migraine takes place. They uncovered never-before evidence of a complex supply and demand system that involved blood flow and oxygen. The team found that the brain develops “a voracious demand for energy as the organ attempts to restore the delicate chemical balance that is lost in the initial throes of a phenomenon known as cortical spreading depression, which is thought to underlie many migraines.”

Although the arteries to the brain expand dramatically to provide a great deal of oxygen-rich blood to meet the demand of energy the migraine takes up, some parts of the brain still undergo severe oxygen shortage (hypoxia). The parts of the brain’s signaling structures then begin to disintegrate, much like what happens when a person experiences a mini-stroke, or after brain injury or a heart attack.

“It’s long been known that patients having a migraine attack are functionally impaired from the pain,” says Takano. “It’s also been shown recently that with repeated migraines, a person’s cognitive abilities decrease. But actually doing damage to the brain — that is a surprise.”

“It’s astounding just how many migraine sufferers do not see a doctor and are not on a medication to prevent a recurrence,” says Dr. Deborah Friedman, professor of Ophthalmology and Neurology who was not associated with the study. “It’s estimated that less than 20 percent of people who should be on preventive treatment receive such treatment. Doctors and patients need to be diligent and rigorous about using preventive medications for migraine,”

Migraine headache sufferers experience severe pain that is not usually relieved with over-the-counter medication. From this study it is important that sufferers seek medical attention to not only handle the pain but to find the root cause and prevent it from happening. This can prevent deterioration of the brain and memory as well.




Science Daily News – Migraine Headaches May Cause Brain Damage, Mouse Study Shows: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070430102025.htm