Migraine as a risk factor for subclinical brain lesions

JAMA. 2004 Jan 28;291(4):427-34. doi: 10.1001/jama.291.4.427.


Context: Clinical series have suggested an increased prevalence of cerebral infarction and white matter lesions (WMLs) in migraine patients. It is not known whether these lesions are prevalent in the general migraine population.

Objectives: To compare the prevalence of brain infarcts and WMLs in migraine cases and controls from the general population and to identify migraine characteristics associated with these lesions.

Design: Cross-sectional, prevalence study of population-based sample of Dutch adults aged 30 to 60 years.

Participants: Randomly selected patients with migraine with aura (n = 161), patients with migraine without aura (n = 134), and controls (n = 140), who were frequency matched to cases for age, sex, and place of residence. Nearly 50% of the cases had not been previously diagnosed by a physician.

Main outcome measures: Brain magnetic resonance images were evaluated for infarcts, by location and vascular supply territory, and for periventricular WMLs (PVWMLs) and deep WMLs (DWMLs). The odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of these brain lesions compared with controls were examined by migraine subtype (with or without aura) and monthly attack frequency (<1 attack, > or =1 attack), controlling for cardiovascular risk factors and use of vasoconstrictor migraine agents. All participants underwent a standard neurological examination.

Results: No participants reported a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack or had relevant abnormalities at standard neurological examination. We found no significant difference between patients with migraine and controls in overall infarct prevalence (8.1% vs 5.0%). However, in the cerebellar region of the posterior circulation territory, patients with migraine had a higher prevalence of infarct than controls (5.4% vs 0.7%; P =.02; adjusted OR, 7.1; 95% CI, 0.9-55). The adjusted OR for posterior infarct varied by migraine subtype and attack frequency. The adjusted OR was 13.7 (95% CI, 1.7-112) for patients with migraine with aura compared with controls. In patients with migraine with a frequency of attacks of 1 or more per month, the adjusted OR was 9.3 (95% CI, 1.1-76). The highest risk was in patients with migraine with aura with 1 attack or more per month (OR, 15.8; 95% CI, 1.8-140). Among women, the risk for high DWML load (top 20th percentile of the distribution of DWML load vs lower 80th percentile) was increased in patients with migraine compared with controls (OR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.0-4.1); this risk increased with attack frequency (highest in those with > or =1 attack per month: OR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.2-5.7) but was similar in patients with migraine with or without aura. In men, controls and patients with migraine did not differ in the prevalence of DWMLs. There was no association between severity of PVWMLs and migraine, irrespective of sex or migraine frequency or subtype.

Conclusions: These population-based findings suggest that some patients with migraine with and without aura are at increased risk for subclinical lesions in certain brain areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Infarction / diagnosis
  • Brain Infarction / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Migraine with Aura / epidemiology
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors