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05/06/2007 - News

Migraine's Hidden Brain Benefit

By: Robert W. Griffith, MD

Migraine's Hidden Brain Benefit

Robert W. Griffith, MD

Migraine is a miserable and pervasive disease that can disrupt the working and leisure life of many people. So it's good to hear that there is a slight health benefit to migraine. Apparently, migraineurs have a lower risk of developing cognitive decline than people unaffected by the disease. People with migraine have more depression, anxiety, seizures and stroke than non-migraineurs, so it's only fair they have some benefit.

Johns Hopkins researchers, reporting in the journal Neurology, found that longtime middle-aged migraine sufferers showed less cognitive decline over a period of 12 years than migraine-free subjects. There were 204 migraine sufferers in the collective studied - almost 1,500 people in their 40s and 50s. Immediate and delayed recall tests of memory and the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) were administered at the start of the study and at intervals in the subsequent years. Those with migraines scored lower on the memory tests at baseline, but declined less over time than those without migraines. Those migraineurs over 50 who had auras had a slower decline on the MMSE than nonmigraineurs.

These results were unexpected, and the investigators are struggling to find an explanation. Perhaps the use of non-aspirin painkillers has a protective effect on the brain nerve cells? Or the prescription medication migraine sufferers take could help? Maybe the lifestyle changes migraineurs adapt (e.g. more sleep, eating well, relaxation techniques) in order to minimize their disability have a protective effect on brain function. Most likely, however, the migraineurs have built-in differences in brain blood vessels or in the sensitivity of brain nerve cells that affects the time-related deterioration in function. More research will provide the answer, as usual. In the meantime, the migraineurs have a small cause to rejoice.

HealthandAge Blog

Created on: 05/06/2007
Reviewed on: 05/06/2007

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