Findings from a study in Iceland suggests that migraine headaches in middle age may give rise to permanent brain damage later in life.
This association is only apparent in women and only for migraines with aura, a common type in which sensations, such as the perception of flickering lights, occur in addition to the headache itself.
"The degree to which migraine is a marker or risk factor for brain changes that may have functional consequences in old age, is a question of public health importance," Dr Lenore J. Launer, from the National Institute on Ageing in Bethesda, Maryland, and co-investigators write in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The prospective Reykjavik Study, established in 1967, included a random sample of subjects born between 1907 and 1935. In 2002, the study was continued as the AGES-Reykjavik Study to examine factors associated with disease and disability in old age.
How the study was done
Included were 2 693 women and 1 996 men who averaged 51 years of age at the midlife interview, and 76 years of age at the late-life evaluation. During the first evaluation, 10.3% of women and 4.2% of men reported a history of migraine with aura.
Brain lesions resembling dead tissue were more common in women with migraine with aura than in women without headaches.
In a related editorial, Drs Tobias Kurth and Christophe Tzourio at University Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris advise that these findings be interpreted with caution and warn that "it is premature to conclude that migraine has hazardous effects on the brain."- (Reuters Health, June 2009)
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