BOSTON Ask anyone who suffers from migraine headaches what they do when they're having an attack, and you're likely to hear "go into a dark room." And although it's long been known that light makes migraines worse, the reason why has been unclear.
Now scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have identified a new visual pathway that underlies sensitivity to light during migraine in both blind individuals and in individuals with normal eyesight. The findings, which appear today in the Advance On-line issue of Nature Neuroscience, help explain the mechanism behind this widespread condition.
A one-sided, throbbing headache associated with a number of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, migraines are notoriously debilitating and surprisingly widespread, affecting more than 30 million individuals in the U.S. alone. Migraine pain is believed to develop when the meninges, the system of membranes surrounding the brain and central nervous system, becomes irritated, which stimulates pain receptors and triggers a series of events that lead to the prolonged activation of groups of sensory neurons.
"This explains the throbbing headache and accompanying scalp and neck-muscle tenderness experienced by many migraine patients," explains the study's senior author Rami Burstein, PhD, Professor of Anesthesia and Critical Care Medicine at BIDMC and Harvard Medical School.
In addition, for reasons that were unknown, nearly 85 percent of migraine patients are also extremely sensitive to light, a condition known as photophobia.
"Migraine patients may wear sunglasses, even at night," he notes, adding that the dimmest of light can make migraine pain worse. Extremely disabling, photophobia prevents patients from such routine activities as reading, writing, working or driving.
It was the observation that even blind individuals who suffer from migraines were experiencing photophobia that le
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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center