Migraine Research: Are Older Migraine Sufferers At Risk For Silent Brain Injury?


Silent brain injuries, also referred to as ischemic silent brain infarctions or silent strokes, are brain injuries that show no symptoms and are presumably caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow to necessary brain tissue. These injuries increase an individuals risk of stroke in the future. 

For decades, a connection between migraines and stroke has concerned the medical community, mainly in reference to increased risk of stroke in young patients. But today, The American Headache Society recognizes that 1/3 of US stroke victims have a history of migraine and most are females older than 40. A new study released by the American Heart Association also supports this theory, suggesting that older migraine sufferers are at a greater risk for developing silent brain injury, thus increasing their risk for future stroke.

The Research

The study examined Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) results from a diverse group of participants to widely examine stroke risk between migraine sufferers and non-migraine sufferers.

  • 104 participants had a history of migraines.
  • 442 participants did not have a history of migraines.
  • 41% of participants were male.
  • 65% were Hispanic (as Hispanics have an increased risk of stroke).
  • The average age of all participants was 71 years.

In participants with a history of migraine, silent brain infarctions (which look like lesions) were twice as prevalent (30%). However, there did not appear to be an increase in the volume of small blood vessel abnormalities, which prior studies have connected with migraines.

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According to Teshamae Monteith, M.D., lead author of the study, the lesions discovered in patients with migraine history appeared to be ischemic, indicating that they resulted from lack of blood flow (a commonly accepted theory as to the cause of migraines) but more research is necessary to say with absolute certainty.

What Does This Research Mean for Chronic Migraine Syndrome Sufferers?

Discovering that older migraine sufferers had twice as many silent brain infarctions (according to the above study) has readers pondering – could a greater focus on preventative treatment for migraine severity and frequency help to decrease the existence of silent brain infarctions and therefore, lower risk of future stroke?

It is estimated that only about 12% of adults with frequent migraines take preventative medication and instead, manage pain once symptoms arise. For chronic migraine syndrome, the FDA has only approved one preventative drug, Onabotulinumtoxin A. In addition to the limited options for preventative migraine treatment, between 17 and 29% of migraine sufferers who take preventative medication discontinue use because side effects are too great.

It’s important for readers to recognize that further research is necessary to confirm with certainty whether long-term effects exist for chronic migraine sufferers and if so, what the true nature of those effects are. If you are interested in learning more about preventative treatment for migraines, schedule an appointment with your treating physician to discuss available options.

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Image Source: dierk schaefer

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