Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Can migraines lead to memory loss?

Q. I have frequent migraine headaches. Does this increase my risk of memory loss or dementia?

A. This is a logical question, given that some studies have linked migraine headaches to an increased risk of symptomatic stroke as well as "silent" stroke. As we wrote in June, multiple "silent" or unnoticed strokes may lead to progressive memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. Your question is particularly important for women, since we are more likely to have migraine headaches than men, and we also have a higher prevalence of dementia.

Fortunately, findings from the Women's Health Study are reassuring on this topic. The Women's Health Study is a randomized, prospective study involving 39,876 U.S. female health professionals ages 45 and older. In 1998, a subset of 6,377 women ages 65 and older were tested for memory and reasoning (cognition), and asked about past or current migraine headaches. These women were followed for an average of three and a half years. Those who had migraine were not at greater risk for cognitive decline compared with those who did not have migraine.

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