Harvard Women's Health Watch

In the journals: Link found between migraines with aura and late-life brain lesions in women

In the journals

Link found between migraines with aura and late-life brain lesions in women

Migraine is a chronic headache disorder characterized by intense pain (typically beginning on one side), sensitivity to light (photophobia) or sound (phonosensitivity), and often nausea and vomiting. Women are three to four times more likely to be affected than men. In some people with migraine, headache pain is preceded by neurological symptoms called an aura, which consists mostly of visual disturbances such as sparkles, jagged lines, blind spots, and halos. Some people suffer from difficulty speaking or numbness in the face or extremities.

A study has found that women who experience migraine with aura are at an increased risk later in life for tissue damage in the cerebellum, a region in the lower back of the brain that helps regulate movement, balance, and coordination. Clinicians describe the areas of tissue damage as infarct-like lesions. (An infarct is the death of tissue from loss of blood supply.) So far, their significance is unknown.

The study, led by scientists at the National Institute on Aging (part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health), is based on information gathered during a study of cardiovascular disease by the Icelandic Heart Association. The subjects, 4,689 women and men living in Reykjavik, were first interviewed about headaches between 1972 and 1986, when their average age was 51 years (age range 33 to 65). Those reporting more than one or two headaches per month were asked about migraine symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, photophobia, and numbness or visual disturbances preceding the headache.

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