Could Migraine Headaches Predict PARKINSON’S DISEASE?

migraines PD


Could Migraine Headaches Predict PARKINSON’S DISEASE?


A newly released study has found that people who suffer migraine headaches have an increased risk of developing PARKINSON’S DISEASE later in life.  If those migraine headaches are also accompanied by auras, the flashing bright lights seen in the perimeter of their vision, the risk of developing PARKINSON’S DISEASE (PD) is doubled. While there appears to be an association of migraines to the risk of PD, the overall risk factor is quite small.


For some time, neurologists and psychiatrists have thought there may be a relationship between dopamine function and both migraine and PD.  Dopamine dysfunction has been associated with both Restless Legs Syndrome and Parkinson’s and is suspected in the cause of migraines.  Migraines are the most often reported neurological complaint, but there is still much research needed.  An earlier study found that people who had a family history of migraine continued to suffer from migraines after the onset of PD.  However, people who did not have a family history found their migraines improved or disappeared after the onset of PD symptoms.  This study made no mention of whether the subjects experienced aura, but called for more research into the role of dopamine in both familiar and non familiar types of migraine.


The current study was conducted by Ann Scher, Ph.D. from the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, MD.  This was a 25 year study that followed 5,620 subjects in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Of the original study group, 1,028 reported they suffered from headaches; of that group 668 suffered with migraine headaches and 430 of them also had auras with their headaches.  Later, all the subjects were examined for symptoms of PD or Restless Legs Syndrome.  2.4 percent of the people who suffered migraines with auras developed PD while only 1.1 percent of people who had no headaches developed PD. The risk of developing PD is double for people who suffer migraines with aura, compared with people who do not suffer any headaches.  But keep in mind, this is an estimate of risk, meant to inspire more research and while the actual level of risk is really very low. Interestingly, they also found that women who suffered migraines with aura also were more likely to have a family history of PD.


Migraines with aura have also been associated with risk of stroke or heart disease and are commonly linked with depression.  Some studies have suggested that migraines may also affect the structure of the brain.  While this research adds PD to the list, the call is for more research and better understanding of how the neurological problem of migraine relates to other neurological disorders such as PD or depression.


A. I. Scher, G. W. Ross, S. Sigurdsson, M. Garcia, L. S. Gudmundsson, S. Sveinbjornsdottir, A. K. Wagner, V. Gudnason, L. J. Launer. Midlife migraine and late-life parkinsonism: AGES-Reykjavik StudyNeurology, 2014; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0000000000000840


Barbanti, P., et al. “Dopamine and migraine: does Parkinson’s disease modify migraine course?.” Cephalalgia 20.8 (2000): 720-723.






Review by Marcia McCall


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