Study indicates migraine sufferer's brains are 'hyper-excitable'

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When suffering from a migraine, the last thing you may associate it with is excitement. But a recent study suggests that the brains of those who have the intense headache appear to be “hyper-excitable.”

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University, both in England, set out to test a theory that a part of the answer lies in the visual cortex.

Located in the back of the brain, the visual cortex is responsible for vision. Migraines are characterized by intense, debilitating headaches in which many who suffer from them report sensitivity to light.

“Most migraineurs also report experiencing abnormal visual sensations in their everyday life, for example, elementary hallucinations, visual discomforts and extra light sensitivity,” said lead author Dr. Terence Chun Yuen Fong of the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology in a press release. “We believe this hints at a link between migraine experiences and abnormalities in the visual cortex. Our results provide the first evidence for this theory, by discovering a specific brain response pattern among migraineurs.”

Researchers gathered 29 people who regularly suffer from migraines, who in the study were referred to as migraineurs, and 31 non-migraineurs. All those in the study were asked to glimpse a striped grating pattern and rate it based on any associated visual phenomena or whether it was uncomfortable to view. Participants further underwent an electroencephalogram test, which researchers used to track and record participants’ brain wave patterns when visual stimuli were presented.

Both tests resulted in researchers finding a greater response in the visual cortex among migraneurs when participants were presented with the gratings. However, non-migraineurs reported additional visual disturbances, which is a common aspect of migraines. Non-migraneurs were also taken into account with the study and their brains also displayed hyper-excitability.

More research is needed on the matter and the next step is to monitor the 60-person group over time to see if they have a changed response to the visual stimuli as a migraine draws near. Then, researchers will try to map other possible physiological shifts.

“Our study provides evidence that there are likely specific anomalies present in the way the visual cortex of migraine sufferers processes information from the outside world,” said Dr. Ali Mazaheri of the University of Birminham’s School of Psychology and the Center for Human Brain Health. “However, we suspect that is only part of the picture, since the same patterns of activity can also be seen in non-migraineurs who are sensitive to certain visual stimuli.”

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