Good News for Headache Sufferers . . . No Lasting Brain Effects

It has been observed for some time that people with frequent headaches, namely migraine, have a much higher rate of what we call “deep white matter brain disease” as revealed on MRIs. A recent study looked at this effect over time, especially as it influenced cognition or thinking/memory.

Deep in the brain the neurons are coated with a thin fatty layer just like insulation on wiring. The accumulative effect of this fatty coating is to make the brain look white so it is called the deep white matter. Since MRI has been around, it was noticed that some people have little dots (some aren’t so little) within this part of the brain, suggesting some type of damage is going on. It was observed that those with migraine were more prone to these types of dots or lesions. It has also been known for a while that migraine sufferers are a little more prone to having strokes. The theory or at least worry, was that over time these lesions would add up and influencing the patient’s memory and making them more prone to what we call cognitive decline.

A group at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston reviewed several long term studies and were able to conclude, “Results from longitudinal studies on migraine and cognitive decline consistently show that those who experience any migraine, migraine with aura, or migraine without aura are not at increased risk of cognitive decline.”

I often have patients worrying that all the headaches that they are having, or all the medications that they must take for the headaches, will eventually cause them to have dementia or other forms of memory loss or cognition. So the the good news is that the answer to this question or concern is that this is one less thing you need to worry about.