Migraine May Cause Structural Brain Changes

There have been several studies about white matter lesions and other structural changes in the brain associated with Migraines. As is fairly common, researchers have bone back to review and analyze the data from those studies.

Study objective:

Bashir et. al. set out to perform a “systematic review and meta-analysis” with this goal:

To evaluate the association between migraine without aura (MO) and migraine with aura (MA) and 3 types of structural brain abnormalities detected by MRI: white matter abnormalities (WMAs), infarct-like lesions (ILLs), and volumetric changes in gray and white matter (GM,WM) regions.”1

Study methods:

The researchers pulled data from PubMed as well as the references cited in identified studies and reviews to identify the studies to include. They identified six population-based studies and 13 clinic-based studies.

Study results:

The analysis of the identified studies:

  • Suggested structural changes in the brain including:
    • white matter abnormalities (WMAs),
    • silent (meaning that they caused no symptoms) infarct-like lesions (ILLs), and
    • volumetric changes in grey matter (GM) and white matter (WM) regions of the brain.
  • These changes were more common in Migraine patients than control groups.
  • There was association of white matter lesions and Migraine with aura, but not Migraine without aura.
  • Infarct-like lesions were associated more strongly with Migraine with aura than Migraine without aura.
  • Volume changes were ore common in people with Migraine than in those without Migraine.

Study conclusion:

These data suggest that migraine may be a risk factor for structural changes in the brain. Additional longitudinal studies are needed to determine the differential influence of migraine without and with aura, to better characterize the effects of attack frequency, and to assess longitudinal changes in brain structure and function.”1

Author comments:

Study author Messoud Ashina, MD, PhD, with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, commented:

Traditionally, migraine has been considered a benign disorder without long-term consequences for the brain. Our review and meta-analysis study suggests that the disorder may permanently alter brain structure in multiple ways. Migraine affects about 10 to 15 percent of the general
population and can cause a substantial personal, occupational and social burden. We hope that through more study, we can clarify the association of brain structure changes to attack frequency and length of the disease. We also want to find out how these lesions may influence brain function


This type of review and meta-analysis study can be very valuable because it pulls together data from multiple previous studies to provide a kind of summary on what’s been shown in research.

In this case, the results showed that Migraine with aura increased the risk of white matter brain lesions by 68 percent, and Migraine without aura increased the risk by 34 percent, compared to those without Migraine. The risk for infarct-like abnormalities increased by 44 percent for those with Migraine with aura compared to those without aura. Brain volume changes were more common in people with Migraine without aura and Migraine with aura than those with no migraines.

It’s very important to realize that this research should not be reason to panic. It is, however, excellent evidence for working with our doctors to find effective preventive treatments to reduce the frequency of our Migraines.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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