Does migraine damage the brain?

Should people with migraine have a brain scan?

Worry about damage

Some people with migraine may be worried that it causes damage to their brain.

Brain scans of people with migraine may show changes known as lesions. If you have had a brain scan which show lesions you might be worried about these and that your migraine attacks have caused damage to your brain. As far as we know these lesions are not generally associated with any neurological issues and don’t indicate an increased risk of cognitive decline.

Some people are told these changes are related to transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs or mini-strokes). However, there is no evidence that these lesions are stroke. As far as we know they aren’t connected with cognitive dysfunction (problems with memory, language, thinking, problem solving or judgement) in later life or risk of stroke.

As we get older we all experience age-related cognitive decline. However, there is currently no evidence that migraine causes excess damage to the brain, or causes memory loss.

Should people with migraine have a brain scan?

Some people with migraine feel they would benefit from a brain scan or are referred for one by their GP. However, if you have a diagnosis of migraine, have had a normal physical examination and there are no other concerns, such as a sudden agonising headache (often referred to as a ‘thunderclap headache’) or a new headache in someone over 50, a brain scan is not usually needed.