Chronic Migraines and War of the Sexes?

August 28, 2012

If you believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus you will be interested in the latest research study out of Boston that seems to verify that women and men’s brains may actually function differently, at least when it comes to chronic migraines.  So if there is a difference in how men and women experience migraines, this may imply that gender specific research could be the next frontier in finding migraine treatments.

The science news website ScienceNOW reported that the study examined 44 subjects.  Within this group of men and women, half of them suffered with migraines.  Based on self-reported surveys, the women and men both described their migraines as intense, but the women experienced pain that was more miserable.  The head researcher, a neurologist and neurobiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School likened this to the difference of the loudness compared with the anguish of fingernails scratching a chalkboard.

The researchers then analyzed data from brain scans of the subjects.  They found that female migraine sufferers, who weren’t having a migraine during the scan, had thickened grey matter in two areas, which relate to pain processing and another area, which is linked to migraines as well as the location of a person’s consciousness.  They also tested brain activity responses to pain, and noticed a difference between the men and women with migraine.  They found that the brain structures responding to pain in the women were involved the emotional network, whereas in men it involved a specific area typically associated with reward circuitry, that is studied with addiction issues.  This may suggest that the most effective migraine treatments for men versus women chronic migraine sufferers might not be same.

Although men and women aren’t really from different planets, this study published in the journal Brain, suggests a difference in brain structure and functionality between the sexes who suffer with chronic migraines.  Not surprisingly, when women experience migraine, the emotional circuitry is more engaged than it is when men experience migraine.  Similarly, among men, sensory processing is more engaged than it is with women during a migraine.

Furthermore, the results also support the notion that sex differences involve both brain structure as well as functional circuits, in that emotional circuitry compared with sensory processing appears involved to a greater degree in female than male migraineurs.

Previous post:

Next post: