Recent studies have indicated what researchers have long suspected regarding long-term effects of migraines. It has been discovered that such cerebral events may alter the structure of an affected individual’s brain and significantly increase the risk of developing brain lesions, as well as other neurological and health complications. However, there are new treatment options for migraines on the horizon.
Individuals suffering from headaches known as common migraines and those people who are afflicted by migraines with aura, which is when a person experiences symptoms preceding migraine attacks, were examined via MRI scanning to determine whether or not there was a link between these headache events and abnormalities in the brain, brain lesions, or brain volume changes. Then, these tests were compared with those scans of individuals not suffering from migraines.
The results indicated that those individuals who suffered from migraines with aura exhibited a 68 percent increased risk of developing lesions in the white matter of the sufferer’s brain when compared with those individuals who did not have migraine attacks. Additionally, it was also shown that common migraine sufferers displayed a 34 percent increased risk of developing lesions in the brain when compared with those individuals not suffering from migraines. Moreover, other abnormalities in the brain (e.g. conditions that indicated blood flow obstruction/re-mapping of the brain) increased by 44 percent in those individuals who suffered from migraines with aura when compared with those sufferers who had a history of common migraines. Furthermore, it was also noted that brain volume changes were more prevalent in both types of migraine sufferers than those individuals without any history of migraine attacks.
Other possible long-term effects that can result from such cerebral events beyond altered structure of the brain include altered brain chemistry, mini-strokes or TIAs, risk of future strokes and other cerebral events, as well as a myriad of other emotional and physical consequences to an affected individual’s body and/or mind.
Preventive treatment for migraines has eluded physicians for decades. Over the last 50 years, new treatment options have been few and far between to alleviate the debilitating condition, which affects nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population alone.
However, all hope is not lost. Recently, Albany Medical Center researchers have developed a new treatment technique that offers chronic migraine sufferers significant and prolonged relief from debilitating headaches. This new procedure involves inserting a narrow, spaghetti-size catheter via the patient’s nasal passages and administering lidocaine to the region of the brain known as the sphenopalatine ganglion, which is a nerve center located behind the nose that is associated with migraines. As a sidenote, it is important to point out that no needles are used on patients during the process.
According to researchers, once the lidocaine wears off following the procedure, migraine triggers seem to be diminished. Moreover, nearly 90 percent of patients have reported that they required less or no follow-up migraine medication to provide additional pain relief after the procedure.
While it has been discovered that migraines may alter the structure of an affected individual’s brain, significantly increase the risk of developing brain lesions, as well as other neurological and health complications, all hope is not lost. There are new treatment options for migraine sufferers on the horizon. If this procedure does in fact prove successful in mitigating severe headaches, the new technique has the potential to join the sparse list of temporary, first-line treatment options for migraines. This list of migraine therapies includes Botox, the nasal spray Imitrex, and the use of antidepressants.
By Leigh Haugh
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