It was with great concern we noted findings presented at the American Headache Society’s recent virtual meeting that showed study participants who had a history of migraine were three times more likely to develop any type of dementia and four times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
In a virtual presentation at the American Headache Society’s annual scientific meeting, Sabrina Islamoska, Ph.D., of the University of Copenhagen, said those who had a hospital diagnosis of migraine in midlife (identified here as ages 31 to 58) had a 50% higher dementia rate after age 60 than people without a migraine diagnosis. Dr. Islamoska also stated that "The results show that migraine is a risk factor for dementia, especially migraine with aura. This adds to previous studies supporting stronger vascular mechanisms in migraine with aura."
A 2019 study, led by Suzanne Tyas, PhD, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, of 679 community-dwelling seniors in Manitoba, Canada revealed that people with a history of migraines were three times more likely to develop any type of dementia and more than four times as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Given this incidence of disease initiation, Tyas observed that “we may want to treat more aggressively other risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in order to reduce risk in people with migraines and increase the likelihood of healthy aging.”1
What is the connection between migraine and dementia?
The impact of brain processing changes associated with migraine may explain why these risks are heightened. Dr. Islamoska of the Copenhagen study explained that "Migraine is associated with allostatic load, cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and metabolic diseases, and behavioral factors. These may lead to brain atrophy, changes in brain networks, lesions, and neurodegeneration. In the long term, these may increase the risk of dementia."1 It is also important to note that in Denmark where the study was conducted that most migraine cases are treated in primary healthcare; the study evaluated only hospital-based migraine diagnoses, which may be more severe. Nonetheless, there is clearly a need for more research to investigate these relationships in order to better understand how to treat migraine as well as the ramifications for future neurodegenerative disease.
A few things to know about migraine.
As we have written about in the past, migraine is often so disabling that in just the U.S. alone the indirect (lost work productivity) and direct (healthcare) costs associated with migraine is estimated to be over $35 billion each year.
According to information gathered by the Migraine Research Foundation:
• Migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world.
• Approximately 12% of the population, including children, suffers from migraine.
• 18% of American women, 6% of men, and 10% of children experience migraines.
• Migraine is most common between the ages of 18 and 44.
• Roughly 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraine.
The Office on Women’s Health states that three out of every four migraine sufferers are women who often have headaches that are more painful and longer-lasting than men typically experience. As hormones, specifically estrogen, may clearly play a role in this disproportionate occurrence, some women report that their migraines decrease after menopause. But given that the majority of patients are diagnosed long before that life event, it is critical to discuss with a physician the options you have for relieving these painful headaches in the interim.
A previous blog looked at the possible use of a drug typically prescribed for multiple sclerosis as a migraine treatment and also discussed ways to alleviate symptoms with a healthy diet that includes proper nutrition and several supplements such as magnesium and B vitamins that may help. So be sure to take a look at that article (https://www.suzannegazdamd.com/blog/migraine-remedies-can-a-drug-for-ms-or-natural-treatments-help) and other materials in our resource library for more information.
Migraine, regardless of what the future neurological implications may hold, can be a huge deterrent to living your life the way you want and certainly one that is free of pain! So please don’t delay seeking help and as always let us know if you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment.
In health and hope,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
References and additional resources:
1 Morton, R.E., St. John, P.D, Tyas, S. Migraine and the risk of all‐cause dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and vascular dementia: A prospective cohort study in community‐dwelling older adults.
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/gps.5180. Volume34, Issue11. November 2019. pp 1667-1676
Migraine Research Foundation
Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
American Migraine Foundation
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Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology