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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

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Migraines Linked to Changes in Brain Structure

MRI findings in study should not cause concern to patients, experts say

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"Most doctors believe these changes are nothing to worry about, but it would be nice to see if, over time, these changes correlated with the severity of migraines or with treatments," explained Mogilner, who was not involved with the study.

"If you have the [stroke]-like lesions, most neurologists will test you to make sure that you don't have any other problems or risk factors that might set you up for a stroke down the road. But, I don't think this should cause patients any more concern," he added.

Dr. MaryAnn Mays, a staff neurologist at the Center for Headache and Pain at the Cleveland Clinic, agreed that people with the stroke-like abnormalities should be assessed for stroke risk factors, but added, "in this study, I didn't see any increased risks. I don't think patients have to worry about these lesions."

Mays said she was happy to see that one study in the review followed patients for about nine years and didn't see any changes in thinking or memory even though brain lesions had been seen on the MRIs.

Although the study found an increased risk for certain brain changes among people who have migraines, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

A second study in the same journal issue looked at a completely different aspect of migraine -- why income seems to affect the incidence of these debilitating headaches. As with other research, this study confirmed that migraines were more prevalent in people with lower household incomes. Low income was defined as less than $22,500 a year.

What was more of interest to the researchers, however, was whether the migraines came first and affected the ability to work -- or if the stresses of living on a low income contribute to the development of migraines.

Because the incidence of migraine is higher in people with lower incomes, and pain from migraine is more severe and disabling in people with lower incomes, the authors suggested that the development of migraine is probably linked to physical or psychological stressors from living on a low income.

However, the good news from the study is that remission of migraine wasn't linked to income. The authors suspect that whatever causes migraines to develop may be different than whatever helps them go away.

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