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New trigger for migraine uncovered

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Structural change in the brain's arteries linked to migraine.

Understanding what causes debilitating migraine headaches could lead to better treatments. New research has uncovered that there are structural changes in the arteries of the brain that are more common among people who experience migraine headache. The finding could help explain headache triggers.

Different blood vessel structure found in migraine sufferers

"People with migraine actually have differences in the structure of their blood vessels - this is something you are born with," said the study's lead author, Brett Cucchiara, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in a press release.

"These differences seem to be associated with changes in blood flow in the brain, and it's possible that these changes may trigger migraine, which may explain why some people, for instance, notice that dehydration triggers their headaches."

The researchers explain the area of the brain known as the “circle of Willis" normally protects the brain. But people with migraine are more likely to be missing some components of the arterial structure; especially those who experience auras.

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The finding that appears in the journal PLOS ONE negates previous notions that migraine is caused by dilation of the blood vessels in the head. A more recent suggestion is that the headaches stem from abnormal signals to the neurons.

In the current study, Cucchiara and colleagues looked at 3-groups of people with migraines - a control group with no headaches, people who had migraine with aura, and another group who had migraine without aura.

The researchers found more people with migraines and migraines with aura had structural changes in the area of the circle of Willis than people without migraine.

Finding helps explain visual auras that accompany migraine headaches

Abnormalities in both the circle of Willis and blood flow were most pronounced in the back of the brain where the vision center is, said the study's senior author, John Detre, MD, Professor of Neurology and Radiology. He adds the finding also correlates why the most common migraine aura includes seeing spots, wavy lines and other visual distortions.

The finding that brain arteries are incomplete in people studied with migraines means it might be useful to add diagnostic tests that could help personalize treatment. Incomplete circle of Willis in the brain is common, the authors note, as are migraine headaches.