Pain from migraine headaches can get so bad it may seem like it even hurts to think. But the effect is temporary and does not lead to long term cognitive decline, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Researchers have linked migraines to an increased risk of stroke and brain lesions, but until now it’s been unclear whether the headaches lead to other problems such as dementia.
“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 lead author Pamela Rist, a research fellow in the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).
About 18 percent of all women experience migraines at some point during their lives, compared with 6 percent of the male population.
Researchers at BWH analyzed data from over 6,300 women, 45 years of age and older, who participated in the Women’s Health Study, a large clinical study. The women were classified into four groups: those with no history of migraines; migraines with aura; migraines without aura; and a past history of migraines. The women’s cognitive thinking and memory were tested three times in two-year intervals.
“Overall, cognitive performance seemed to be similar or even slightly better for women in the migraine groups than for women with no history of migraine,” said Rist. “This is an important finding for both physicians and patients. Patients with migraine and their treating doctors should be reassured that migraine may not have long term consequences on cognitive function.”
Migraine is a complex disease and more research is needed to understand its relationship with other health problems, such as stroke and vascular disease, the authors noted.