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Mid-life Migraine Shares Potential Connection with Parkinson’s Disease

People who experience migraine in middle age or have migraine with aura may be more likely later in life to develop Parkinson’s disease or other movement disorders, a recent study suggests.

Researchers, led by Ann I. Scher, PhD, of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, MD, studied the records of 5,620 Icelanders between the ages of 33 and 65, who had been followed for 25 years as part of a health-related study. Following that period, researchers asked the participants about Parkinson’s disease and its symptoms as well as restless leg syndrome, which is characterized by uncomfortable leg sensations and strong urges to move the legs.

They found that the 430 patients with migraine with aura were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s than individuals with no headaches. Among the migraine group, 2.4% had the disease compared to just 1.1% of those with no headaches. Overall, researchers found that nearly 20% of those with migraine with aura reported Parkinsonian symptoms compared to 12.6% of those with migraine without aura, and 7.5% of those with no headaches. Additionally, they found that women with migraine with aura were also more likely to have a family history of Parkinson’s disease compared to those with no headaches.

The researchers also found that the rate of restless leg syndrome increased for all types of headache.

The authors stress that migraineurs should not be unduly anxious because of this study.

“While the history of migraine is associated with an increased risk for Parkinson’s, that risk is still quite low,” Dr. Scher said.

Additionally, the authors noted, the study did not demonstrate that migraine causes Parkinson’s, although there may be an association between the two disorders. Both Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome are caused by a dysfunction of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and dopamine dysfunction is also a possible cause of migraine, they added.

To understand the potential links among the disorders, the authors call for genetic and longitudinal studies.

The article appeared online in the journal Neurology in September.

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