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Men And Women’s Migraines Affect Different Parts of the Brain

Women's migraines affect the parts of the brain that handle emotions

Photo: Jenn G

It’s a fairly well-known stat that women get more migraines than men—three out of four migraine sufferers are womenOne in four women get migraines. According to new research, though, it’s may not be just migraine frequency that’s affected by sex. Women’s migraines, says Scientific American, may be fundamentally different from men’s.

The brain of a female migraineur looks so unlike the brain of a male migraineur, asserts Harvard scientist Nasim Maleki, that we should think of migraines in men and women as “different diseases altogether.”

In a migraine, an imbalance of hormones in the brain causes the tissue to inflame, says the U.S. Office on Women’s Health. “This inflammation then causes blood vessels in the brain to swell and press on nearby nerves, causing pain.”

Recent research, however, showed that in men and women migraine sufferers different regions of the brain are affected.

omen had a greater response in areas of the brain associated with emotional processing, such as the amygdala, than did the men. Furthermore, she found that in these women, the posterior insula and the precuneus—areas of the brain responsible for motor processing, pain perception and visuospatial imagery—were significantly thicker and more connected to each other than in male migraineurs or in those without migraines.

Science Magazine:

ost 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,’ ” Maleki says. “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,” she says.

… The greater activation of emotional pain processing regions in women “could correlate with the greater sense of unpleasantness that is experienced by women with migraine and the higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in women with migraine,” speculates Todd Schwedt, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Lightning May Trigger Migraine Headaches
Chili Peppers Do To Your Skin What Migraines Do To Your Brain

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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