While advances in researchers’ understanding of migraines have occurred over the past 20 years, including how brain structure, genetics, and blood vessels may be involved, unanswered questions as to the mechanism at work abound. But some of the newer mysteries actually being solved about the severe headaches, experienced by some 20 percent of women in the U.S., spell good news for migraineurs.


Past research has linked migraine, especially with aura, to higher risk of stroke and brain lesions. In the general population, these silent brain lesions have been shown to be a risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline. As such, there was speculation that migraine may be a progressive brain disorder.

A question lingered as to whether women with migraine were more susceptible to developing dementia or cognitive decline than women without. Now, this big question mark has an answer, as researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found migraines not to be associated with cognitive decline.

New Finding

Researchers who analyzed data from more than 6,000 women (ages 45 and older) who had migraine with or without aura, no migraine history, or past migraine history, and reported information on migraine status at study-start then during follow-up cognitive testing (completed in two-year intervals up to three times), found those who had migraine not to have significantly different rates of cognitive decline compared to those with no history or a past history of migraine. In other words, having migraines was not linked to faster rates of cognitive decline in women.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) study “was large enough to draw the conclusion that migraines, while painful, are not strongly linked to cognitive decline” said lead study author Pamela Rist, ScD, research fellow in the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in a statement. Not only are migraines more common in women than men, but women also have a higher prevalence of dementia compared to men. “Our findings are very consistent with findings from another study we did in a French cohort,” said study author Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, adjunct associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.


“Patients with migraine can now rest assured that their disease will not affect cognition at all, which was believed to be a possibility before,” said Dr. Kurth. “It’s one shred of good news for patients who already suffer a lot.”