Many aspects of migraine remain medical mysteries, but scientists may have taken a step toward understanding the condition with scans that show its effects on the brain.
The results, which have been reviewed and will be presented next week at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, were made using high-resolution MRI scans. Then researchers from the medical community examined 10 participants diagnosed with chronic migraine, 10 with episodic migraine without aura and five people who served as a control group. The ages of the participants ranged from 25 to 60 years.
Analyzing the results of the scans, the researchers noted that people with chronic or episodic migraines had more perivascular spaces — the fluid-filled spaces that surround blood vessels in the brain and clear the waste area — compared to those without migraines. .
Wilson Shaw, PhD candidate at USC Keck School of Medicine and co-author of the study, told USA TODAY, “Seeing this kind of relationship between increased amounts of[perivascular space]in a specific area of white matter in the brain, we think there may be Sort of an association between migraines and the waste elimination system.”
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Shaw said researchers aren’t sure of the exact relationship between migraines and perivascular spaces, but it could involve blood flow in the brain or have other effects.
“We think that when a migraine occurs, it can cause these changes, and those changes can lead to some of the symptoms and things that we feel when we have a migraine,” he said.
Migraine is one of the most disabling conditions that people around the world deal with. Common symptoms of migraines include severe pain, nausea, fatigue, and cognitive impairment.
A study published in April concluded that at least 15% of the world’s population, or 1.1 billion people, suffer from a headache on any given day. Half of these individuals suffer from migraines. The National Headache Foundation estimates that nearly 40 million Americans suffer from migraines.
Despite the number of people who suffer from migraines, there is no known cause — or cure — for them. Experts have identified possible triggers for it and believe it is a genetic disease, but preventive steps are the best course of action that people should deal with.
Dr. Andrew Charles, a neurologist and director of the UCLA Migraine Program who was not involved in the study, said the findings intrigue him, but he’s not sure how to interpret the results.
“There are all kinds of things going on in the perivascular space,” he said. “The question is the cause or effect (of a migraine).”
Charles praised the research for using a high-resolution MRI technique to look at migraines, adding that it “will be informative and potentially revealing” when it comes to understanding migraines.
Charles added, “I think the kind of thing we need to do about this, as they suggest, is do some follow-up studies and try to look at a number of other factors as well.”
Xu noted that it’s too early to say how the findings will help solve how migraines work or look like, but it’s a good start.
“We believe these findings will certainly be a first step in the right direction towards a better understanding of how migraines affect the brain,” he said.
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