Home Mind + Body Motion Sick & Get Migraines? Here’s Why

Motion Sick & Get Migraines? Here’s Why

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Migraine sufferers can attest to how challenging it can be when symptoms of a migraine appear, causing sensitivity, pain, and dizziness.   New research has uncovered a connection between people who get migraines and how susceptible they are to other types of brain-related sensory information, namely motion sickness.

                A team from the University of Hamburg, Germany, asked twenty migraine sufferers and twenty people who did not get migraine headaches to participate in a study which used MRI scans while they watched a virtual reality presentation of a rollercoaster.  The example of a rollercoaster was used to fully explore what happens inside the brains of migraine sufferers which typically process visual motion input abnormally, leading to difficulty with balance and perception of self in space during migraine attacks.

                The participants who did get migraines experienced approximately four migraines in a month, and over three-quarters were women.  Though the videos of rollercoasters watched through virtual reality headsets did not provoke a migraine, those who were predisposed to migraines did report twice the amount of dizziness than those who did not get migraines.

                The perceived motion sickness was also double for those with migraines, their symptoms had greater intensity, and lasted three times as long as those who did not have migraines.  The brain scans revealed that migraine sufferers tended to have more activity in nerve cells and that two areas of the brain responsible for processing visual input was increased (superior and inferior occipital gyrus), while decreased in two other regions (cerebellar lobule VIIb and middle frontal gyrus).

                One of the most noticeable changes in the brains of migraine sufferers was in the brain region known as the pontine nuclei, an area responsible for motor activity and movement.  Researchers hypothesize that this is one of the main regions which attributes why motion sickness and migraine headaches occur because it causes abnormal modulation of sensory and visual input.

                The researchers hope to use the information about where the changes occur in the brains of migraine sufferers to find better treatments for migraines.


Brain Processing of Visual Self-Motion Stimuli in Patients With MigraineAn fMRI StudyGabriela F. Carvalho, Jan Mehnert, Hauke Basedau, Kerstin Luedtke, Arne MayNeurology Sep 2021, 97 (10) e996-e1006; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000012443


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