If you suffer from regular migraines, it may interest you to know if headaches cause brain damage. Keep reading to learn more…
A headache is defined as a painful, throbbing sensation in your head. It can be a constant annoyance, stopping you from doing the most basic tasks.
People simplify headaches as a painful sensation in their brains, but it’s not that simple. The brain relays sensory information relating to pain to all other parts of our body, but is unable to experience pain itself.
When people get a headache, it’s the blood vessels, nerves and muscles around their heads, necks and shoulders experiencing pain.
Some of the most common types of headaches are: tension headaches, migraine headaches and cluster headaches. People who experienced trauma in the past, suffer from post-traumatic headache.
Migraine patients suffering from frequent attacks have bright spots on their brain called white matter lesions, which might worry individuals that migraine attacks may be damaging their brain.
But various studies show that brain lesions caused by migraines are not indicative of any permanent cognitive dysfunction. Below is a YouTube video explaining the relationship between migraine and brain lesions.
Migraine Brain vs Normal Brain
Migraine headaches are probably the most notorious category of headache. It causes agonizing pain, often on 1 side of the head, and are frequently followed by vomiting, nausea, and heightened sensitivity to sound and flashes of light.
The study pointed out that a section of the cerebral cortex in the brain is thicker in migraine sufferers, compared to people who don’t suffer from migraines. Migraine brain may also lead to the development of lesions in brain cells.
People might think the appearance of these lesions might have a debilitating impact on the brain.
But lesions caused by migraine are harmless, and may also appear in a normal brain as people age.
The key differences between a brain suffering from constant migraine episodes, from the brain not suffering from these attacks can easily be visible in a mri scan. These differences include damage to soft tissues around the brain and blockage of blood vessels surrounding the brain.
Is Migraine Related to Intelligence?
A study was conducted with four groups of people – those who suffer from headaches, cluster headaches, migraines, and a group who hadn’t had a headache in the last year.
These four groups from the general population answered a questionnaire, from which intelligence among each group was studied. The above-mentioned study provided no evidence that people experiencing migraine attacks were less or more intelligent than the other three groups.
However, it was found that more intelligent people in the first three groups were more inclined to seek doctor consultations for their headaches.
This finding might illustrate the origin of the assumption that migraine is related to intelligence. But the findings of the study debunk the claim.
What Part of the Brain Does a Migraine Affect?
Common migraine symptoms seem to impact cortical activity in our brain. Most notable of these symptoms are visual alterations caused by changes in the occipital lobe functions.
Studies have shown that the pain caused by migraine attacks arises from the brainstem. Migraines also triggers the trigeminal pathway, stimulation of which causes the pain to be carried all around the brain.
This explains why migraines seem to start with a pain on 1 side, and then the pain spreads in all the brain regions in our head.
Migraine Brain Fog
Apart from severe headache, migraines may also cause brain fog. This can appear right before migraine attacks, intensify during them and might even persist after the migraine symptoms have passed.
Brain fog causes impairment to cognitive function of the brain like struggling to concentrate, and having trouble recalling names or common words. It might also affect your sense of direction and cause short term memory loss.
Brain fogs caused by migraines can be especially dangerous for old people and pregnant women, as they are two of the most vulnerable groups.
Furthermore, it is important to note that certain preventive medications used for emergency treatment of migraines can also cause symptoms of brain fog. So it’s important to consult doctors before using any medication for your migraine.
Does Migraine Lead to Dementia?
Studies have shown a relationship between migraine and all forms of cognitive dysfunction. Migraines sometimes produce brain fog, a symptom of which is forgetfulness.
So, dementia can be a cognitive impairment caused by migraine when you’re older. This is dependent on the recurrence and extent of migraine episodes.
The same studies have also showed that certain medicines used to treat migraines might also lead to increased risks of dementia. It is important to consider this fact before preparing a treatment plan for migraine sufferers.
What Causes Migraines in Females?
Research concludes that females are more likely to get migraine headaches than men. Among women of all age groups, women undergoing puberty (Ages 12-15) and women experiencing menopause (Ages 50-55) are the most common victims of migraines.
Women in these age groups undergo various hormonal changes in estrogen levels both during puberty and menopause, which might bring about a migraine episode. On heavy blood flow days during menstrual periods, women might also experience symptoms of migraine.
Some other causes of migraine in women are –
- Stress and high blood pressure
- Excessive drinking or smoking
- Consuming too much caffeine
- Certain pain relief medication
- Flashing lights and loud noises
- Skipping meals or not drinking enough water
- Irregular and insufficient sleep
Long-Term Effects of Migraine on the Brain
Although harmless, there are certain long-term effects of migraine on the brain.
We’ve already mentioned migraine and its association with late-stage dementia and brain lesions. There’s also chances of cardiac migraines, if you have a long history of heart attack.
The symptoms of this stroke include visual discomfort, difficulty speaking, and throbbing, painful sensation in the brain. These symptoms gradually exacerbate and eventually heighten the risk factor of ischemic strokes.
Other than this, extended and persistent episodes of migraines may also lead to cortical spreading depression, which comprise dramatic alterations in the cortical activity in the brain, causing stimulation quickly followed by inhibition.
Migraine Brain Tumor
Sometimes the pain of the migraine is so bad, people experiencing them worry themselves to death thinking they might have a brain tumor. But a magnetic resonance imaging scan will show you that it’s only migraine, and not a tumor.
There are no links between migraines and brain tumors, however they might cause migraines in people with a history of headaches. The pain accompanied by these migraines are worse early in the morning and late in the night.
People experience it differently, but most have described this particular migraine as someone opening up their head, putting several blades in it, and shaking it violently afterwards.
FAQ Relating to Can Headaches Cause Brain Damage
Different types of headaches can be caused by a variety of factors and have varied symptoms. Some might require a distinct treatment plan, like using nasal sprays for sinus headaches, or simple lifestyle changes for common migraine.
This might also bring forth a variety of questions that need to be answered. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding whether headaches can cause brain damage –
Can Headaches Cause Permanent Brain Damage?
Headaches can be very painful, but they don’t cause any long-term brain damage, a multitude of studies have shown. There is a small chance of ischemic stroke in migraine patients who get migraine aura, but the number is very small – 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 people.
Regular headaches have short-term effects, while migraines if accompanied by ischemic stroke, might cause a blockage in the blood vessels to the brain. Frequent and prolonged episodes of migraines might also result in dementia later in life, but the number of afflicted people is small.
Do Headaches Affect the Brain?
Headaches are unpleasant to go through and exhausting to deal with. But they don’t have any long-lasting affects on the brain.
Typically, headaches cause moderate to excruciating pain, and disruption in normal brain function such as vision, sense of balance & direction. Migraines may cause increased sensitivity to light, sound, sometimes even touch and smell.
Sometimes, severe headache and migraines can be accompanied by vomiting, nausea and short-term memory loss.
Do Migraines Change Your Brain?
Frequent migraine attacks come with the possibility of making changes in your brain.
People who deal with migraine regularly, might experience brain lesions. Brain lesions cause the soft tissue around the brain to change, and range from harmless to potentially fatal.
But lesions brought about by migraines are non-threatening, unlike those caused by head trauma, like a violent blow to your head.
Can Migraines Leave Scars on Your Brain?
In short, yes – Migraines can leave scars on your brain. They can be long-term as well, since brain lesions caused by migraines permanently change the way soft tissues in the brain look.
But these scars are not life-threatening and do not cause any permanent injury to your brain. They cause short-term disruption to the executive function of the brain, but don’t cause any irreparable damage like a serious head injury does.