An interesting study was published this week in the British Medical Journal. For years it’s been known that sufferers of migraine headaches show small abnormalities on MRI scans that may indicate small strokes. This new study extends this finding to people who likely have tension-type headaches as well as older individuals. Until now, it was unclear whether such small structural brain lesions impair cognitive function. The findings show that they do not.
The study included 780 older adults (mean age, 69 years). Of these, 163 had a history of severe headache and 116 had migraine, of whom 17 reported aura symptoms. Subjects were given a battery of tests including Mini Mental Status Exam (a brief 30-point questionnaire test that is used to screen for cognitive impairment. It is commonly used in medicine to screen for dementia. It is also used to estimate the severity of cognitive impairment at a given point in time and to follow the course of cognitive changes in an individual over time, thus making it an effective way to document an individual's response to treatment).
The researchers had MMSE scores for 769 of the 780 subjects. There was no association between overall or specific headache types and impaired cognitive function on the MMSE, regardless of the presence of brain lesions. The researchers note in their report that the battery of cognitive function tests they used yielded similar association patterns, and they chose to report only findings from the MMSE in the current article and will be submitting the full cognitive data in a separate manuscript. Still, this is encouraging news for suffers of migraines and tension headaches.