• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Research: migraine headaches could indicate brain lesions

November 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Almost 15 percent of Americans get migraines. Now there's new evidence that migraine sufferers, particularly women, might have a higher risk of developing small lesions on their brain. Researchers took a closer look to see what these lesions could mean.

"It's characterized by headache and nausea and sensitivity to light and sound," said Lenore Launer, a senior investigator with the National Institute on Aging.

Researchers from the National Institute on Aging looked at the brains of middle-aged men and women. Some had migraines, some did not.

In a report provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association, study authors found migraine sufferers had a higher risk of having small lesions in the white matter of the brain than those without migraines.

"Particularly among women, there was evidence of an increased risk of having these small white hyper-intensities on the MRI scan," said Launer.

While the evidence suggests these lesions may be associated with a migraine attack, researchers say there's no proof these headaches cause the small white hyper-intensities or that they cause any further cognitive or debilitating effects. But Launer plans to do more research to examine the lesions more closely.

"This really changes the game in terms of thinking that migraine is an intermittent condition that does not leave any lasting trace on the brain, to something where it's a more chronic condition where there actually is some evidence left as a result of the migraine," said Launer.

But will this affect the way doctors treat migraines? Scientists say not at this point. Patients and doctors should not change how they manage their migraines.

Researchers also found more frequent or severe headaches did not equal more brain lesions. They also point out that finding those lesions shouldn't really change the way a migraine patient is managed.