Migraines Linked to High Sodium Levels in Cerebrospinal Fluid


Source: Radiological Society of North America

Summary: According to a new study which used a technique called sodium MRI to look at migraine patients and found that migraine sufferers have significantly higher sodium concentrations in their cerebrospinal fluid.


A migraine is a primary headache disorder characterized by repetitive headaches that are moderate to severe and sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, vision changes or odd sensations (auras). It affects about 18% of women and 6% of men. Diagnosing migraine is challenging as the characteristics and types of attacks differ widely among patients. Therefore many migraine patients are left undiagnosed and untreated. Dr. Melissa Meyer and colleagues in a new study explored a magnetic resonance technique called cerebral sodium MRI which can help in the diagnosis and understanding of migraine. MRI often relies on protons to generate an image but sodium can be visualized as well. Previous research has shown that sodium plays a key role in brain chemistry.

Migraine sufferers have significantly higher sodium concentrations in their cerebrospinal fluid.

MR image examples of a migraine patient with exemplary region-of-interest placement in an external sodium reference phantom and in the white matter (right). Fused T1-MP-Rage and sodium image; right: sodium image (left). Credit: Radiological Society of North America

The research team recruited 12 women with a mean age of 34, who had been clinically evaluated for migraine. The women were asked to fill a questionnaire about the length, intensity and frequency of the migraine attacks and accompanying auras. Another 12 healthy women were also recruited which served as a control group. Both the groups underwent cerebral sodium MRI. The researchers found no statistical differences in the in the two groups for sodium concentrations in the gray and white matter, brain stem and cerebellum. But significant sodium concentration differences emerged in the cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord). Finally, researchers found that migraine sufferers had higher sodium concentrations when compared to the healthy control group. In future studies, researchers hope to learn more about the connection between migraines and sodium.

Dr. Meyer said, “These findings might facilitate the challenging diagnosis of a migraine”, “As this was an exploratory study, we plan to examine more patients, preferably during or shortly after a migraine attack, for further validation.”

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