Brain differences detected in migraine sufferers

WASHINGTON – People who get migraines have structural differences in their brains notably in the cortex area that processes pain and other sensory information from the body, scientists said.

The researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Neurology, said it is unclear whether these brain differences actually cause migraines or are themselves caused by these severe, recurrent headaches.

The researchers performed brain scans on 24 people who had a long history of frequent migraines — about four per month for 20 years — and 12 people who did not get migraines.

The somatosensory cortex — the area of the brain that detects sensations like pain, touch and temperature in various parts of the body — was 21 percent thicker in the people who got migraines compared to those who did not.

The biggest difference was in the part of the cortex responsible for processing sensory information from the head and face, Dr. Nouchine Hadjikhani of Massachusetts General Hospital, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

Hadjikhani said the study illustrated the seriousness of the migraine. “It has to be taken seriously because it can induce changes in your brain,” she said.

Migraines are a type of painful headache commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting and heightened sensitivity to light and sound. Women are three times more likely than men to experience these headaches. Many people who get them have a family history of migraines.

“The more we understand about the pathophysiology of migraine, the better we will be able to design drugs that work. At the moment, there is no drug for prevention that works well,” Hadjikhani said.

Dr. David Dodick, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study, said the study shows that migraines are a brain disorder. “And it shows that migraine has some durable, long-lasting morphological or structural changes in the brain over time,” Dodick said.