According to new research from the U.S., migraine sufferers have structural differences in the part of the brain that deals with pain.
A study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has found that people with migraine have differences in the cortex area of the brain which helps process sensory information.
The researchers say this area is thicker in people with migraine than in people who do not have the neurological disorder.
The team led by Dr. Nouchine Hadjikhani, from the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at the hospital used brain scans to compare the brains of a group of 24 people with a long history of frequent migraines to 12 people without migraine.
The brain scans revealed that in the migraine patients the somatosensory cortex area of the brain was an average of 21 percent thicker than in those without migraine.
Dr. Hadjikhani says that could be the result of repeated migraine attacks as most of the people had been suffering from migraines since childhood.
Hadjikhani suggests the long-term overstimulation of the sensory fields in the cortex could explain these changes but says it is also possible that people who develop migraines are naturally more sensitive to stimulation.
The researchers say the results indicate that the brain’s sensory mechanisms are important components in migraine and may explain why people with migraines often also have other pain disorders such as back pain, jaw pain, and other sensory problems such as allodynia, where the skin becomes so sensitive that even a gentle breeze can be painful.
Other studies have shown there are also changes in the cortex and the area becomes thinner in neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
The area thickens with extensive motor training and learning.
Dr. Hadjikhani says the study illustrates the seriousness of migraine in that it can induce changes in the brain.
Migraines are painful headaches which are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and heightened sensitivity to light and sound.
They can be incapacitating and women are three times more likely than men to experience such headaches; many people who suffer from migraines have a family history of them.
The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Swiss Heart Foundation, and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine Dean’s Award, and is published in the current issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.