What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

Thickheaded People

Migraine headaches are the most common of all chronic neurological conditions to affect man and they can be quite difficult to treat and control. In an effort to further advances in migraine treatment, medical researchers are involved in many fascinating clinical studies. Each study adds to the body of knowledge about migraine headaches, lending hope to migraine sufferers worldwide.

Pain Signals

One such study, published in November 2007 suggests that the brains of migraine sufferers have structural differences in an area of the brain that helps process sensory information, including pain signals. Researchers at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that a part of the cortex area of the brain is thicker in people with migraines than in those who do not share this neurological condition. Twenty-four people with migraines were compared to twelve people without migraines with the result that those with migraines were found to have a somatosensory cortex that was an average of 21% thicker than in those without the neurological disorder.

Structural Changes

Study author Nouchine Hadjikani, MD hypothesized that, "Repeated migraine attacks may lead to, or be the result of, these structural changes in the brain."

Hadjikani believes that the apparent differences in brain structure may be due to long-term overstimulation of the sensory areas of the cortex, since migraine sufferers often suffer from the condition in early childhood and on into adulthood. Another possibility to be considered, according to Hadjikani, is that migraine sufferers may have a greater natural sensitivity to stimulation.

The study author says the results show that the sensory mechanisms of the brain's cortex are active components in migraine attacks. "This may explain why people with migraines often also have other pain disorders such as back pain, jaw pain, and other sensory problems such as allodynia, where the skin becomes so sensitive that even a gentle breeze can be painful."

There have been other studies showing changes in the cortex. Neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease have been shown to thin the cortex, though extensive motor training and learning can thicken the cortex.

This research study was supported by grants from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine Dean's Award, the Swiss Heart Foundation, and the National Institute of Health. The results of the study were published in the November 20, 2007, issue of the medical journal Neurology, of the American Academy of Neurology.