Migraine headaches suffered by one in 10 women may inflict long-term damage to a part of the brain important to coordination and the senses, researchers said on Tuesday.
Lesions in the brain's cerebellum were prevalent in nearly one-quarter of older women who were afflicted in middle age by migraine headaches that were accompanied by an "aura," they said.
The aura is experienced as flashing lights, zig-zag lines or loss of vision before the painful, debilitating headaches strike. More than 10 percent of women experience the aura and another 7 percent have migraines without an aura.
Migraines afflict three times as many women as men, and there was no increased frequency of lesions discovered in the men who suffered from migraines. There was also no increase in lesions among women who suffered migraines without the "aura."
The lesions appeared in the cerebellum, which is located at the base of the brain and is key to motor coordination and to integrating information gathered by the senses.
Migraines have generally been thought not to have a lasting impact on the brain, according to the report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But recent research has shown migraines may be caused by interrupted blood flow to the brain.
Such stroke-like interruptions in blood flow may also lead to lesions forming on the aging brain, the report said.
The study monitored the health of nearly 5,000 Icelanders for 26 years, and 23 percent of women who suffered migraines with an aura had a prevalence of lesions nearly three decades later, about double the percentage of women who were free of migraines.
The study by U.S. researchers from the Uniformed Services University, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the National Institute on Aging along with the Icelandic Heart Association in Reykjavik did not determine whether the women with lesions suffered problems with their faculties.