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Do Migraines Have Long-Term Effects?

Dr. Charisse Litchman

Medically reviewed by Dr. Charisse Litchman, MD, FAHS on January 7, 2021

There are concerning signs that repeated, severe migraines may cause changes in the brain, although there isn’t conclusive evidence that people with chronic migraines experience lasting health effects as a result of their migraines. MRI scans of people with migraines have found reduced cortical thickness and surface area on images of the brain. In addition, MRI scans sometimes reveal white matter lesions on the brains of young people with migraines. These white matter lesions resemble ones more typically seen in older people and may be misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis. 

Between 12-47% of migraine patients have these lesions on their brains, in comparison to 2-14% of the general population. Older patients and those who experience migraine with aura are more likely to have white matter lesions, as are those who experience nausea with their headaches, experience severe headaches, and have suffered from headaches for a greater number of years. We don’t know for certain, but medical experts believe that these lesions are related to the effects of migraines on blood vessels. 

Should you be concerned that your migraines are causing permanent changes to your brain?  Possibly. While there isn’t conclusive evidence, it is believed that these lesions and other brain changes may eventually lead to cognitive impairment or neurological decline, such as changes in the way you walk. For that reason, many doctors recommend that people who experience frequent migraines should take a preventive medication, such as a daily pill or monthly injection, to prevent migraines from occurring in the first place. 

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