For the first time, scientists have demonstrated how migraine affects the brain. Using ultra-high-resolution MRI, researchers from the University of Southern California found that perivascular spaces in the brains of people who suffer from migraine are unusually enlarged, which could lead to new treatments for the chronic condition.
The science and other stuff to know
Migraines don’t just give you recurring severe headaches, they also have a significant impact on your daily life. They can cause nausea, weakness, and light sensitivity. A migraine can also lower brain productivity. And in the case of a chronic migraine, which affects more than 35 million people in the U.S., the brain impacts can persist even after the migraine-induced headache wears off.
In a new study aimed at understanding how migraines affect the brain, researchers at the University of Southern California found that perivascular spaces (fluid-filled spaces around the brain’s blood vessels) are unusually enlarged in patients who experience chronic and episodic migraines.
The study findings were presented at the 108th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Study participants included 10 with chronic migraine, 10 with episodic migraine without aura (visual impairment), and five age-matched healthy controls. All volunteers were between 25 and 60 years old.
“In people with chronic migraine and episodic migraine without aura, there are significant changes in the perivascular spaces of a brain region called the centrum semiovale,” medical scientist Wilson Xu said in a statement. “These changes have never been reported before.”
“Although we didn’t find any significant changes in the severity of white matter lesions in patients with and without migraine, these white matter lesions were significantly linked to the presence of enlarged perivascular spaces. This suggests that changes in perivascular spaces could lead to future development of more white matter lesions,” he added.
This is the first study to use MRI to demonstrate how migraine changes your brain. However, the study team acknowledged it’s still unclear how brain changes affect migraine development or result from migraine. The team recommended further studies with larger sample sizes and follow-ups to better understand the relationship between migraine development and changes in the brain.
“The results of our study could help inspire future, larger-scale studies to continue investigating how changes in the brain’s microscopic vessels and blood supply contribute to different migraine types,” Xu said. “Eventually, this could help us develop new, personalized ways to diagnose and treat migraine.”
This isn’t the first time scientists have revealed migraine can change your brain. Another study in the peer-reviewed Neurology journal claims migraines can permanently alter the brain structure.