Researchers believe they have found a connection between a tendency to get migraines and risk of Parkinson’s disease. In particular, people who get migraine with aura—an alteration in vision that often presages a migraine—are twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s later in life as people without migraines. Migraine affects an estimated 30 million people and is the most common brain disorder in adults, so potentially millions of people are at risk for Parkinson’s disease, as well as for the cardiovascular illnesses with which migraine is also associated.
In addition, people in the study with a family history of Parkinson’s were more likely to get migraines, providing more evidence of a connection. The reason for the link, if it exists, is not entirely clear, but one possibility is that dopamine, a messenger chemical in the brain that has been implicated as a major cause of Parkinson’s, is also involved in migraines. Past research has indicated that dopamine receptors may be involved in migraines.
The dopamine issues that cause migraines, however, are imperfectly understood themselves. Their causes—called triggers—vary from person to person. Among the most common migraine triggers are onions, alcohol, secondhand smoke, and MSG. Some chemical compounds are also common triggers, such as the nitrates used in curing meat or tyramine, which naturally forms in aged foods such as wine or certain cheeses. Stress is another frequent cause of migraines. A recent study found that referring to a stressful situation as a "headache" isn’t just a metaphor; people with more stress in their lives are more prone to headaches of the literal sort. With migraines, it seems the let-down after is a bigger problem, and keeping stress levels even is important for prevention.
In fact, avoiding triggers in general is the most effective way of preventing migraines. There is a learning curve to this, since avoiding triggers requires first determining what they are. However, once a patient’s triggers have mostly been determined, avoiding them can significantly reduce migraine instances. In addition, medications and medical devices are available to prevent migraines or lessen their severity or duration. Two new electromagnetic stimulation devices, for example, seem to be useful for stopping migraines as soon as they start, if not sooner.