Timing and topography of cerebral blood flow, aura, and headache during migraine attacks

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Abstract

Ten years of study has resulted in considerable but fragmented knowledge about regional cerebral blood flow in migraine with aura (classic migraine). In the present study, the number of repeatedly studied patients (n = 63) was large enough to determine statistically significant sequences of events and statistically significant spatial relations. The first observable event was a decrease of regional cerebral blood flow posteriorly in one cerebral hemisphere. Further development of this pathological process was accompanied by the aura symptoms. Thereafter headache occurred while regional cerebral blood flow remained decreased. During the headache phase, regional cerebral blood flow gradually changed from abnormally low to abnormally high without apparent change in headache. In some patients headache disappeared while regional cerebral blood flow remained increased. Although regional cerebral blood flow reduction and aura symptoms in the great majority of patients were unilateral, one-third had bilateral headache. Unilateral headache usually localized to the side on which regional cerebral blood flow was reduced and from which the aura symptoms originated (i.e., aura symptoms were perceived to occur contralaterally but presumably originated in the hypoperfused hemisphere). Our results suggest a simple model for migraine attacks: A pathological disturbance in one cerebral hemisphere causes the aura symptoms and after a time delay, it also causes the headache by stimulating local vascular nociceptors. Bilateral headache caused by a unilateral cerebral disturbance may be explained by recent neuroanatomical and neurophysiological findings.

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