A paper recently published in American Academy of Neurology suggests that migraine in middle age may indicate an increased risk of developing a movement disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease. The study also showed that people who experienced migraine with aura were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease compared with those who did not suffer from headaches.
The study followed the medical histories of 5,620 people aged between 33 and 65 years for 25 years. On entry into the study, 3,924 of the participants had no headaches, 1,028 had headaches with no migraine symptoms, 238 had migraine with no aura and 430 had migraine with aura. The investigators compared the rate of diagnosis and incidence of symptoms for Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome (RLS; also known as Willis-Ekbom disease) across the four groups.
Parkinson’s disease was diagnosed in 2.5% of the participants who had migraine with aura but only 1.1% of those with no headaches.
Parkinsonian symptoms were observed in 20% of those with migraine with aura, 13% of those with migraine with no aura, and only 7.5% of those with no headaches. Participants with migraine were also more likely to report at least four of six key parkinsonian symptoms compared with those who did not suffer migraine (3.6 times as likely for those with migraine and aura and 2.3 times as likely for those with migraine and no aura).
Women with migraine with aura were also more likely to have a family history of Parkinson’s disease compared with those with no headaches.
It has been proposed that the development of migraine may be linked to the brain messenger dopamine, abnormal levels of which are known to be fundamental to the development of parkinsonian symptoms. These latest findings indicate that more research exploring this possible link is justified.
Study author, Ann Scher commented:
Migraine is the most common brain disorder in both men and women. It has been linked in other studies to cerebrovascular and heart disease. This new possible association is one more reason research is needed to understand, prevent and treat the condition.
Readers should be reassured that, although an association has been found between a history of migraine and an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, this risk is still relatively low.