Facebook Pixel

Are Women Who Have Migraines at Risk for Cognitive Decline?

Rate This
Do women with migraines have more risk for cognitive decline? MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

About 10 percent of people worldwide suffer from a type of headache called migraines, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Some people who have migraines may have an aura beforehand — a group of symptoms that warn that the headache is about to occur.

Aura symptoms include speech and language problems, vision loss, sensation changes, like pins and needles, on the limbs, and visual phenomena.

About 33 percent of individuals with migraines have an aura, noted the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

When an individual has a migraine, the symptoms can last between 4 and 72 hours if she does not get treatment. These symptoms include pain on one side of the head that is throbbing, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Some individuals may have blurred vision, lightheadedness, and sensitivity to sounds, lights and smells.

Women have migraines much more frequently than men, up to three times more, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

One concern among women who have migraines is if they are at risk for cognitive decline. Abnormal brain activity causes migraines, but the exact mechanism is not known.

Researchers looked at data from the Women’s Health Study to see whether women who have migraines have a faster rate of cognitive decline compared to women who have never had a migraine.

The study included 6349 women, with 853 of these women reported having a migraine. Of those 853 women, 410 women had a past history of a migraine, 248 women had migraines without an aura, and 195 women had migraines with an aura. The women in the study were ages 65 and over.

At baseline, researchers gathered data on the women’s migraine history. Cognitive assessment was administered via the telephone, with the participants’ migraine status being hidden from the interviewer.

Five tests were given, which were compiled to create a global cognitive score. The mean time for the follow-up was 3.4 years.

Pamela M. Rist, Jae H. Kang, Julie E. Buring, M. Maria Glymour, Fran Grodstein and Tobias Kurth, the authors of this study, found that the women who had migraines did not have greater risks of cognitive decline compared to women without migraines.

They did find other effects.

For example, in the telephone interview for cognitive status, they found that older women may have faster cognitive decline rates compared to younger women.

They also found faster rates of cognitive decline in women who had had a cardiovascular event compared to women who did not.

"However, because of the multiple subgroup analyses, this result should be interpreted with caution and further research is warranted to determine whether the interplay of migraine and cardiovascular disease leads to faster cognitive decline, and whether preventive strategies can be applied."(Rist)


MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Migraine. Web. 22 August 2012

MayoClinic.com. Migraine. Web. 22 August 2012

National institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Migraine Information Page. Web. 22 August 2012

Rist PM, Kang JH, Buring JE, Glymour MM, Grodstein F, Kurth T. “Migraine and cognitive decline among women: prospective cohort study.” BMJ. Web. 22 August 2012

Reviewed August 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


Get Email Updates

Migraine Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!