Study suggests association between midlife migraine and late-life Parkinson’s disease

Studies have demonstrated that patients with migraine disease have an increased risk of cardiovascular and psychiatric disorders, and this increased risk is even more apparent in those migraineurs who have migraine with aura.1 While this relationship has been demonstrated in several studies, less is known about migraine and other comorbid conditions.

Recently, results from a large, longitudinal study of patients in Reykjavik, Iceland suggest a link between midlife migraine and Parkinson’s disease.2

Over the course of 25 years, a total of 5,620 people who were between the ages of 33 and 65 were followed in the Reykjavik Study (RS).2 The study was established in 1967, and included men and women who were born between 1907 and 1935. The 5,620 people were classified into 4 groups: 3924 with no headache, 1028 with nonmigraine headache, 238 with migraine without aura, and 430 with migraine with aura. Follow-up was conducted between 2002 and 2006 in the Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility-Reykjavik Study (AGES-Reykjavik Study) on 5764 RS survivors. Study participants were assessed for symptoms of Parkinson’s, diagnosis of Parkinson’s, or symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS).

Results of the study showed that people with midlife migraine, especially those with migraine with aura, were more likely than others to have symptoms of Parkinson’s later in life (odds ratio [OR] = 3.6 [95% Confidence interval (CI) 2.7-4.8]).2 Additionally, those with migraine with aura were also more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (OR = 2.5 [95% CI 1.2-5.2]) later in life. Further, women with migraine with aura had an increased likelihood of having a parent (OR = 2.26 [95% CI 1.3-1.4]) or sibling (OR = 1.78 [95% CI 1.1-2.9]) with Parkinson’s disease. Restless-leg syndrome later in life was associated with headache.

Study investigators concluded that there appears to be a link between migraine and multiple indicators of Parkinson’s disease, but that link is not fully understood.2 Dr. Scher, lead author of the study publication, noted that there could be multiple factors driving the association between midlife migraine and Parkinson’s disease later in life.3 One potential mechanism Scher noted is head injury. She explained, “Headache is a common symptom following a head injury and head injury has also been linked to parkinsonism...It's an interesting finding, but we can't really make much more of it because we don't know when these head injuries occurred, but it indirectly supports that it might be a possible link." Dr. Scher also proposed the possibility that iron deposition may be a potential common factor, as some studies have shown that iron deposition in the basal ganglia occurs in people with Parkinson’s disease, while other studies have demonstrated that people with migraine are more likely to have iron deposition. It’s difficult to know what this really means, so more studies that examine iron deposition in the basal ganglia are warranted.

It appears that there is an association between mid-life migraine and Parkinson’s disease later in life; however, more research is required to elucidate the potential causes of this relationship.

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