Migraines, those pesky headaches that can often leave you bedridden for a full day, may contribute to a higher risk of cognitive decline. A new study has found a link between migraines and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study examined 679 older adults aged 65 years and older who were participating in the Manitoba Study of Health and Aging. The researchers screened participants five years into the study and analyzed their cognitive abilities.
They found that a history of migraines throughout participants’ lives was associated with an increase in dementia. The study concluded that migraines were a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and all-cause dementia, but not as much for vascular dementia. The reasons behind this, however, remain unclear.
Migraines and Alzheimer’s Link
Migraines are recurring headaches that can be moderate to severe in pain. They fall under the primary headache disorder category and most often affect people between the ages of 35 and 45, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Migraines are also more likely to affect women.
The WHO notes that migraines are typically caused by the release of inflammation in the nerves and blood vessels around the head. Migraine with aura (MA), in particular, has been identified as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Past research has found connections between migraines and dementia risk. Though scientists still aren’t sure what’s behind this link, it may have something to do with vascular risk factors. Past research has also found that vascular risk factors, like hypertension and diabetes, can increase your risk of dementia.
Researchers also discovered in recent years that long-term migraines may change brain structure and have destructive effects. A 2013 study published in Neurology examined how migraines contributed to structural brain changes, including white matter abnormalities, infarct-like lesions and volumetric changes in gray and white matter.
The researchers of the latest study hope that further solidifying evidence and understanding behind the migraine and dementia link may provide more information in the future for understanding Alzheimer’s disease.
“We don’t yet have any way to cure Alzheimer’s disease, so prevention is key,” Suzanne Tyas of the University of Waterloo in Canada, a lead author of the study, said in a press release. “Identifying a link to migraines provides us with a rationale to guide new strategies to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”