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Keywords:

  • migraine;
  • habituation;
  • simple paradigm;
  • achievement paradigm;
  • autonomic nervous system

Objective.—To investigate the habituation response pattern of patients with migraine to a simple standard stressor and to a more complex performance-dependent (achievement) stressor in three peripheral systems (electrodermal, vasomotor, and cardiovascular). We hypothesized that the migraine patients would show abnormal habituation in these peripheral systems, especially in response to achievement stimuli.

Background.—Abnormal central habituation to repetitive stimuli has been reported frequently in patients with migraine. But little is known about habituation of the peripheral autonomic nervous system to stressors in these patients.

Methods.—A total of 30 female migraineurs and 30 physically and mentally healthy women matched for age and social status participated in a simple habituation test (auditory stimuli) and an achievement habituation test (mental arithmetic).

Results.—Habituation was impaired in the electrodermal (skin conductance response), vasomotor (pulse volume amplitude), and cardiovascular (heart rate response) systems during the mental arithmetic test (achievement stimuli) in the migraineurs as compared to the healthy controls. With the simple stressor (auditory stimuli), however, habituation was impaired in the vasomotor system only. Consistent with these findings were the participants' verbal reports, which indicated significantly more subjective tension in the migraine group than in the control group during the calculation test.

Conclusion.—Our results suggest that the mental arithmetic (achievement) habituation paradigm is an important tool for demonstrating reduced habituation in several specific components of the autonomic nervous system. Further research is needed to target the covariance of central and autonomic nervous system habituation phenomena in migraine.