Women's Migraines Not Linked to Mental Decline: Study

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Researchers have some reassuring news for women who suffer from migraines: There is no strong link between the intensely painful headaches and cognitive decline or dementia.

The research out of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston is based on data from 6,349 women ages 45 and older who participated in a health survey. The participants were classified into four groups: no history of migraine, past history of migraine, and continued history of migraine with and without aura. (Auras can cause a person to see flashes of light or feel pins-and-needles sensations before a migraine kicks in.)

After this baseline information was collection, the participants were tested for cognitive function in two-year intervals up to three times. The results, which were published online Aug. 8 in the British Medical Journal, showed no strong relationship between migraines and long-term consequences on cognition, according to the researchers.

"Compared with women with no history of migraine, those who experienced migraine with or without aura did not have significantly different rates of cognitive decline," Pamela Rist, who led the study, explained in a statement from Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"Previous studies on migraines and cognitive decline were small and unable to identify a link between the two," Rist added. "Our study was large enough to draw the conclusion that migraines, while painful, are not strongly linked to cognitive decline."

About 30 million Americans suffer from migraines, but women are three times more likely than men to be impacted by them. The debilitating headaches have been linked to an increased risk of depression and even stroke. Much is still unknown about the chronic condition, but researchers recently found the first genetic link to migraines — a gene variant also found to change the activity of other genes, including one previously linked to disorders such as epilepsy.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.