Recent research suggests that migraines aren't associated with the decline of mental functions.

If you’re a woman suffering from migraines, there’s new information that should put your mind at ease.  According to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), migraines are not associated with a decline in cognitive or mental functions such as learning, memory, and reasoning.

Migraines affect about 20 percent of the female population. While migraines are common among women, there are many unanswered questions about their long-term health impact. Of particular concern is whether migraines increase the risk of a woman developing dementia or losing mental functioning.

To address this concern, a BWH research team consulted data from the Women’s Health Study.  This large-scale health study that began in 1993 has gathered health information on 40,000 women aged 45 years and older.  Researchers looked at the records of 6,349 women who provided information about migraines and who also participated in cognitive (mental function) testing during the course of the study. Women were classified into four groups: no history of migraine, migraine with aura (symptoms that immediately precede a migraine, including visual disturbances, numbness, changes in speech, and muscle weakness), migraine without aura, and past history of migraine.  Cognitive testing was carried out in two-year intervals up to three times. Researchers concluded that women with no history of migraine did not have significantly different rates of decline in mental function.

“Previous studies on migraines and cognitive decline were small and unable to identify a link between the two. Our study was large enough to draw the conclusion that migraines, while painful, are not strongly linked to cognitive decline,” explained Pamela Rist ScD, a research fellow in the Division of Preventive Medicine at BWH, and lead author on this study.  This study can be viewed online on the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

More research needs to be done to fully understand how migraines affect the brain; however, the results of this study should give you one less thing to worry about when coping with migraine headaches.  You can find additional information about headache in women through our Women’s Neurology program or the John R. Graham Headache Center.

– Jamie R

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