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Migraines Linked With Brain Damage

As brain cells swell during a migraine, they become starved of oxygen, which may cause brain damage — at least in rats — according to a newly released study. This damage may help explain other findings that people with migraine have a higher risk of stroke. Here’s an excerpt of the article on brain damage and migraine:

“They studied a process called cortical spreading depression, known as CSD, a wave of changes in cells associated with migraine, stroke and head trauma.

“They used a precise two-photon microscopic and oxygen sensor microelectrodes to look at the brains of live mice while they caused this process.

“They saw a swelling occur and the brain cells became starved of oxygen. The nerve cells were damaged — specifically the dendrites, the long, thin spikes that stretch from one nerve cell to another.”

This highlights the importance of using preventives rather than just painkillers during a migraine. Not having a migraine at all prevents other symptoms and the potential for brain damage. In contrast, painkillers treat the pain, they don’t keep the migraine from wreaking havoc on the brain. I’m not sure where triptans fall on this scale, but certainly aborting a migraine is better than having one.

Some good may come from having migraine. A study released last week found that migraine sufferers show less cognitive decline and memory loss than those without migraine.

However, that good news is muddied by other studies showing that people with migraine suffer from brain changes and a risk of brain lesions. Not to mention another new study noted an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

How much more will it take for people to see that migraine isn’t just about headaches?

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Headache & Migraine News

Harvard Medical School researchers have found brain changes in patients with migraine. For a more accessible article about the study, read The Migrainous Brain: What You See Is Not All You Get? by Peter Goadsby of the Institute of Neurology. I fear this more than living the rest of my life in pain. It doesn’t necessarily mean changes in brain function, but the possibility is unsettling.

Using two forms of magnetic resonance imaging the researchers studied 24 patients with migraine (12 who had migraine with aura and 12 without aura) and 15 age-matched healthy controls.

There were no differences in cortical thickness in motion-related areas between the participants with migraine who had aura (neurological disturbances such as illusions of flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or blind spots) and those who did not, but the area of cortical thickening in one area corresponded to the source of cortical spreading depression previously identified in a person who had migraine with aura.

As well as showing that there are some structural differences in the brains of people with migraine, the position of the changes could help to explain why some people with migraine have problems with visual processing even in between attacks.

In 2004, Teri Robert of About.com‘s Headache and Migraine section wrote about a study examining the risk of brain lesions in people with migraine. It’s different than the current study, but scary nonetheless.

In case you’re not scared enough: Taking Topamax on a long-term basis increases your risk of developing kidney stones, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that taking topiramate on a long-term basis, or for about one year, caused systemic metabolic acidosis — a buildup of excessive acid in the blood — as a result of the inability of the kidney to excrete acid. Topiramate use also increased the urine pH and lowered urine citrate, an important inhibitor of kidney-stone formation.

“These changes increase the propensity to form calcium phosphate stones,” Dr. Sakhaee said.

In the short-term study, urinary calcium and oxalate — a chemical compound that binds strongly with calcium and is found in most calcium stones — did not significantly change in people taking topiramate.

Kidney stones are solid deposits that form in the kidneys from substances excreted in the urine. When waste materials in urine do not dissolve completely, microscopic particles begin to form and, over time, grow into kidney stones.

Some sort of good news: Sumatriptan, the generic for Imitrex has been approved in Sweden. It will be available as soon as the European patent expires in 2007. Few of you actually live in Sweden, but it could indicate the likelihood of other European countries to follow their lead.

The graphic is from the motor cortex page of PBS‘s Probe the Brain section.