About 30 percent of people with recurrent migraines also have sensory disturbances right before their head pain hits. Those disturbances, known as "aura," are usually visual -- like seeing flashes of light or blind spots.
No one knows precisely what causes migraines, but they do seem to involve abnormal brain activity and -- like the new study suggests -- abnormal brain structure.
The findings, published online March 26 in Radiology, come from MRI scans of 63 adults with migraines, and 18 migraine-free men and women.
Filippi's team found that the migraine brain was complicated. In some areas, the cortex was thicker, but in others -- including pain-processing areas -- the cortex was thinner, versus migraine-free adults.
And there were also differences among migraine sufferers. The exact location of the cortex abnormalities tended to differ between the half of patients who had aura and the half who did not.
According to the researchers, those structural differences might help explain why the two forms of migraine manifest differently.
Filippi said it's important to understand the structural brain changes linked to migraines because that could give insight into the cause of people's pain and other symptoms.
But whether any of this will help in managing migraines remains to be seen. According to Filippi, it's possible that doctors could eventually monitor structural changes in the brain's cortex to gauge migraine patients' response to treatment, for example.
Robbins, of Montefiore Headache Center, said that right now, it's "very hard to say" whether that will happen.
He pointed out that the study participants had one MRI scan, so it's not known what happens later on. "It is unclear if these changes in the brain are dynamic -- meaning, do they change over time?" Robbins said.
Filippi said his team is now following these pati
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