Migraines are more likely to inflict women than men, according to a new study.
The research, published in Brain, was conducted by Harvard scientists and looked at the differences between male and female migrainer sufferers.
It found that women and men both rated their migraines as equally intense, but the women found them more unpleasant.
MRI’s of female migraine sufferers’ brains showed thicker gray matter (the brain’s connective tissue) in their posterior insula (involved in pain processing) and their precuneus (the area thought to house our sense of self) than both male migraine sufferers and migraine-free subjects.
To figure out what this gray matter-thickening meant, the researchers tested the subjects’ response to pain — 15 seconds of heat applied to the hand. These thicker areas in the brains of female migraine sufferers appear to talk to each other and cooperate in the pain response. The mens’ brains didn’t show this pattern of coordination.
Head researcher Nasim Maleki said:
"When I checked for sex differences in well-defined pain networks, most of the structures that responded stronger in women were part of the emotional network. In men, the pain comes in, and the brain says ‘ouch,’. In women, the brain says ‘OUCHHHHH!’ Overall, the results suggest that it’s not just one area that underlies the sex differences in migraines, but a network of areas, a system that leads to the problem or progression."
In an interesting twist, the male migraine sufferers‘ brains showed a stronger response to the painful heat in their nucleus accumbens, part of the reward circuitry largely studied in addiction research.
“Interestingly, as much as pain syndromes are more prevalent in women and disproportionate relative to men, in addiction it is the opposite,” Maleki continued.
“Men are more likely to develop addictions, and the prevalence is higher in men. So, is the reward circuitry somehow involved in migraine pathophysiology in men? Are there overlaps between pain pathways and reward pathways? The answer is that we don’t know.”
Regardless, the takeaway message seems to be that migraines result in greater activation of emotional pain processing regions in women than in men. Whether these brain differences cause the migraines, or are caused by the migraines, remains to be seen.
There are a range of treatment options for migraine, one of which is a unique combination pain killer that can be bought over the counter at pharmacies. Nuromol is a combination of ibuprofen (200mg) and paracetamol (500mg), and is indicated for the temporary relief of mild to moderate pain associated with migraine, headache, backache, period pain, dental pain, rheumatic and muscular pain, pain of non-serious arthritis, cold and flu symptoms, sore throat and fever. This product is especially suitable for pain which requires stronger analgesia than ibuprofen or paracetamol alone.