Women suffering from migraines more likely to develop small brain lesions

Study reveals risk of lesions for women suffering migraines, but significance is unclear

DETROIT - A new study is backing up the findings of older research that  migraine sufferers have a higher risk of developing small lesions in the brain.  The new study reveals the same patterns of changes in the brain persist, especially in women.

Roughly 15 percent of people are affected by migraine headaches.

Migraine headaches can have some debilitating symptoms including headache, nausea and sensitivity of light and sound.

Lenore J. Launer, Ph.D. from the National Institute on Aging looked at a group of 435 middle aged men and women living in the Netherlands.  Some in the group had migraines, others did not.

When researchers looked at the patients' migraine headache characteristics, and brain images they found those with migraines had a higher risk of small lesions in the white matter of the brain than those without migraine.

"Particularly among women, there was evidence of an increased risk of having these small white hyper-intensities on the MRI scan," said Launer.

They are called hyper-intensities because on the MRI they look very bright, however their significance is unclear.

"There was no association between having these lesions and whether or not somebody could function cognitively," said Launer.

There is also no proof the headaches cause the lesions however Launder said this really changes the game in terms of thinking that a migraine is an intermittent condition..

"To something where it's a more chronic condition where there actually is some evidence left as a result of the migraine," said Launder.

At this point, the results of the study have no clinical implications and should not change how patients and physicians manage migraine care.  There was also no association between migraines and the progression of any brain lesions in men.

Local 4 medical expert Dr. Frank McGeorge said the lesions haven't been linked to anything specific like brain tumors, or stroke, but he said we do know stroke risk is higher among people with migraines with aura.

When Dr. McGeorge was asked what the bottom line is for women who suffer from migraines, he said more research is needed but this study suggests the better someone can control other medical problems like high blood pressure or diabetes the better off they'll probably be.

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