Are Chronic Migraines Changing My Brain?

Chronic Migraines

Anyone who understands the true extent of migraine pain and how life altering chronic migraines can be has likely thought at least once about whether chronic episodes are changing their brain. This question has recently become the focus of the migraine community as new research suggests that the answer is yes. 

What Defines a Chronic Migraine?

Chronic migraine syndrome is characterized by experiencing migraine symptoms 15 or more days a month. For individuals suffering from this level of frequency, every element of life is affected from family and friends to work and social commitments. Symptoms can include:

  • Moderate to severe pain

  • Auras and visual disturbances

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Exhaustion and fatigue

  • Sensitivity to light or sound

  • Depression 

In severe cases, the physical symptoms of an individual’s chronic migraine episodes can be bad enough to render them unable to function. And for anyone who has experienced this level of pain, there is little more frustrating or terrifying. With so many physical attributes to chronic migraine syndrome, the question of whether there is a tangible change happening within the body can be a perplexing and downright alarming thought. Especially when considering repeated migraine episodes over a long period of time. 

The Study

A recent study, published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that an increase in white matter abnormalities, lesions and changes in gray and white matter regions of the brain occur in patients who suffer from chronic migraine episodes. White matter in the brain refers to the fiber tracts that carry information to and from the brain. Abnormalities within the white matter of the brain will commonly appear as representatives of other conditions like head trauma, cerebral palsy and dystonia. This change is detected using magnetic resonance imaging, also known as MRI brain scanning. For the study published in Neurology, expert physicians compared the physical brain structures of six population-based studies and 13 clinic-based studies. 

The Results

Upon review, it was noticed that those who experience auras prior to a migraine episode had a 68% greater showing of structural changes within the brain while migraine sufferers without auras had a 34% risk.  Auras are visual disturbances that transpire just before the actual migraine attack. They can include symptoms like:


  • Blurred vision

  • Appearance of floaters (tiny specks that float within one’s line of vision)

  • Flashes of light or color

  • Blind spot or total blindness in one eye

These findings have shifted the once accepted notion that migraines have no long-term consequences. Instead, more evidence is leading to the fact that the brain’s physical structure is, in fact, permanently altered by chronic migraine symptoms. 

At this point, it’s important for readers to understand that these are only preliminary findings and not all evidence has been compiled. Additional studies will also be necessary in order to solidify the accuracy of these findings. For those who have been suffering from chronic migraines, this study might confirm a long-running concern. It’s becoming more and more apparent that chronic migraine pain is more serious than previously thought and therefore, deserves a great deal more attention. 

 

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