back to article Having a migraine? Blame your brain

People who suffer from migraines have differently structured brains. According to new research, those who suffer from the severe headaches (often accompanied by nausea and "aura" - patterns of lights dancing before the eyes) have a thickening in the region of the brain that processes sensory information. A study of 24 …


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  1. Susan Ottwell

    Cause and effect

    I was abused as a child, then again by my husband. I had debilitating migraines almost weekly. After 24 years of marriage, I left... and have not suffered a single migraine in almost 15 years since that day. So is it cause, or effect?

  2. Carlo Graziani


    "21% thickening" doesn't really tell us what we need to judge whether the effect is significant.

    Presumably they found that the two (extremely small) samples had somewhat different distributions of thickness, and what they reported was that the ratio of the means of the two distributions is about 1.21.

    However, there is no information presented here concerning the _width_ of th two distributions. Do they overlap appreciably? Or was every migraine-sufferer's cortex in the sample thicker than that of every cortex in the migraine-free control group? What is the statistical significance of the result?

    Given the very modest sample size, I'm extremely skeptical that much has been "demonstrated" here. I do wish that reports on this sort of medical study would include the sort of information required make a substantial evaluation of the claims, though.

  3. Darkside

    Cause or effect?

    After studying the evidence I thought my migraines were probably psychosomatic. It took me several years to sort out enough of my issues and attitudes, then the headaches went from about monthly to about yearly.

    Was I wasting my time, and my brain just decided to rearrange itself?

    Or have the aliens abandoned my brain and moved to someone more solemn?

  4. Matthew LaShure


    When talking about the likely cause of migranes, keep in mind that they can be triggered by a multitude of things.

    I, for example, suffer from Stress, sensory, and dietary migranes. Some people are lucky enough to only have one of those as triggers, and some people are unlucky enough to have all of them. In the case of stress, and stress alone, which is probably the most frequent cause of migranes. Removing a primary factor of stress can completely relieve the symptoms for quite some time, or even for good.

    While I wish it was that easy for me, I have found my migranes are triggered from stress, eating habbits or changes in eating, and sensory (i.e. natural light). So the only way for me to be migrane free, would be to live a completely peaceful life, eating a very bland diet, and never ever step foot outside during daytime.... And now back to my job in the army instead of posting comments....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just thickening

    I doubt that the structural change is complicit in all migraines. After some investigation, I suspected that mine were linked to seratonin levels. As a therapeutic experiment, we tried a low level of SSRIs (the Prozac class of drugs), but at half the minimum dose used to treat depression. They've reduced incidence by about 75%, even at that level. Did my somatosensory cortex suddenly thin out? I doubt it.

    For the record, my migraines are "classic" (visual aura preceding headache), and I have an unusually _low_ sensitivity to pain.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Half assed job

    OK so my brain is different if I have migraines -but the author of this has even bigger issues if he thinks his research is fit to publish.

    Perhaps the author is 21% thicker too.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    causes and pain

    i also have multiple-source migraines -- and ones with no source i can figure out! 8) This thickening of the sensory cortex is interesting, but i should like to know the mapping of the thickened area and how it correlates to the type of aura experienced by the migraineur -- are visual aurae represented by thickening in the visual cortex? What would thicken in the case of dietary or hormonal migraines?

    A neurologist also told me once that MRIs have shown that migraineurs tend to have more patches of less-dense brain matter. Since i've also seen (in Sachs) migraine compared to epilepsy as a physical 'brainstorm', would those be areas affected by the uncontrolled neural firing? How does that correlate with areas of *denser* (thickened) matter?

    Ah, pain, that's right. Define 'sensitivity to pain'. The strength of pain is so subjective that it's impossible. F'instance: i live every day with some sort of migraine. However, since i'm used to it, i just work through it. It comes to my notice only when i start getting sensory anomalies or nausea. So to other people, i don't show the pain i'm in -- does that mean that it's not pain if they were to feel it? Or that i just have a higher pain tolerance? So, since migraineurs (and other chronic pain sufferers) are *used* to pain of some sort, how do researchers know that when we say "ouch" it isn't at a scale when 'normal' people would be screaming?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Oh the pain! The pain!

    " do researchers know that when we say "ouch" it isn't at a scale when 'normal' people would be screaming?..."

    They stick pins in you. Then they stick pins in other people. If you scream and they don't, you're more sensitive to pain.

    It's a bit more complicated than that, but not much. Mostly about large sample calibration. And sometimes they pinch you or use electricty. F'rex the migraineurs who can't stand the breath of wind on their skin would certainly be characterised as more sensitive to pain than the global average, neh?

  9. Matthew LaShure

    Re: Causes and pain

    When it comes to pain, such as headaches, I am very used to this as I from day to day constantly suffer. I don't however show signs of it either to most people. This has tended to numb me to alot of pain, not that I don't feel it, but I don't react to it. I've always been very sensitive to stimuli, both pain and pleasure. But you can't judge how sensitive I am by the reaction I show...

  10. norman


    I had migraines for many years, since I was very young.

    My migraines resulted in sweating a quart or more of water in about a half hour. (I squeezed out the sheets one day to check)

    I still have trouble when a doctor asks me "to scale my pain on a 1-10 scale".

    I have had broken bones, cuts to the bone, hammer blows to the thumb, but have never found any pain close to one of my "bad" migraines.

  11. Alan W. Rateliff, II

    My migraines suck

    I have migraines which are brought on by stress, missing a meal, allergens, some artificial flavors, certain non-sugar sweeteners, and other things which I've yet to figure out.

    As mentioned before, pain is subjective. I have had headaches that last for a couple of weeks or more, ranging from a dull throb to a white-hot glowing poker shaped like a Klingon weapon rammed in and out of my head by way of my eyeball, and in most cases I have had to work through it all. Sometimes sleep helps, sometimes nothing helps. Imitrex has been a God-send for me, but sometimes it can't knock 'em out, either. Scale of 1 to 10? Not bloody likely, as sometimes 10 has to be adjusted.

    But I also suffer from certain sensitivities, some painful and others not. Touch is uncomfortable, I don't like things on me. I'm very sensitive to light, and my optometrist has noted my very reactive pupils, but my 20/15 vision only hurts under headache. I have very acute hearing, but luckily I've only once had sound be painful. Smells set me off, sometimes smells actually hurt me.

    Oh, I almost forgot that I cannot play XBox or any other modern console in an interlaced screen mode (four-player Halo, anybody?) without sending me off to the closed-up bedroom with my head under a pillow.

    They suck, and I've had them as long as I can remember. It never occurred to me that these were so prevalent until my high school reunion when someone I hadn't seen in 10 years asked me if I still had my headaches. Wow.

    On a scale of 1 to 10: I'd like to prop my feet up under the base of my skull and pop my head off. Where does that rate?

  12. Rob


    I sympathise with those of you that suffer quite badly with a multitude of possible catalysts.

    Mine have been down to stress and diet. I'm a firm believer that a large part of the cause of the pain is down to some sort of blood change in the brain. So far we have had 2 other possibilities regarding the chemistry taking place and possible cause. What happened to the theory about every migraine sufferer having a small hole in the heart. Also how does this link to the other theory about blood vessels in the brain being smaller in one area and thicker in another?

    Far too many theories get thrown around to do with migraines, I think most of us would like the theories to be a bit more substantial before being published rather than filling us all with some sort of false hope and making us think of half a dozen other possibilities that we could do to our lifestyle to stop them occurring.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Ah, Migraines

    I used to think they were sinus headaches -- my allergies and sinuses were so bad. Then the auras started. I had a hard time actually putting two and two together because the auras would show up about 24 hours before the headache. My doctor actually didn't think I was getting migraines until she gave me a sample of Amerge and it worked. I'm on a preventative now, still get them, but nowhere near as bad as I used to.

    Since most of you here replying are guys (can't tell what sex you A.C.s are), there's one cause of migraines that no one's mentioned that I noticed -- biological. Yup, monthly. On top of everything else, it can bring a doozy of a migraine. What fun that is.



    Mine are usually barometrically induced...high barometric pressure will stab me for a couple of days. One time the nausea was so bad that the vomiting induced atrial no imitrex for me, due to the heart warning...take 2 fiorinal & 2 advil and call me in the morning....

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