Headaches: Do They Really Cause Brain Tissue Damage?


Many people who experience chronic headaches and migraines feel like there is no real solution to their problem. So, why not just learn to live with it? The following information may give you a very good reason to try to resolve this situation. Also, to get an easy way to do just that.

Chronic headaches are those occurring more than 15 days in a month’s time. As many as 5 percent of the global population experience these headaches. Chronic headaches include medication overuse (or rebound) headaches and migraines. For the sake of this article, we are just going to refer to them as headaches.

How Headaches Cause Changes in the Brain

Scientific research has led to the conclusion that headaches may be doing more damage than simply causing pain. In some cases, headaches are acting like tiny transient strokes which leave the brain inadequate of oxygen and change it in significant ways. This makes it more important than ever to try to get control of headaches and migraines.

Maiken Nedergaard, MD, Ph.D., the neuroscientist who led the study, said the focus of headache care right now is to try to reduce pain. Now, it is imperative we try to prevent headaches from occurring altogether due to the possibility of brain damage. Preventing headaches not only stops the pain but also minimizes potential damage. She suggests becoming proactive when it comes to avoiding triggers and using whatever method that works to reduce the incidence of headaches.

The Discovery of Brain Damage Due to Headaches

Nedergaard’s team was able to get an in-depth look at the events happening in the brain of a mouse having a migraine because of combining two new types of imaging technology. What they discovered was a detailed and surprising account of supply and demand in regards to oxygen and blood flow. They saw the brain developing a strong demand for energy as it tries to recover from cortical spreading depression -- a very likely component of many migraine headaches. During the beginning of this phenomenon, the brain loses chemical balance. At this point, the brain’s arteries begin to expand greatly and make a lot more oxygen-rich blood available to meet the demand for energy. Even so, some areas of the brain have serious oxygen shortage. This leads to the disintegration of some of the brain’s tissue, not unlike what happens when you have a stroke.

Those involved in the study relate that this type of damage looks exactly like what happens when one has TIA’s (transient ischemic attacks). It has long been known that migraine patients become impaired due to the pain. However, these recent studies show repetitive headaches alter a person’s cognitive ability.

Deborah Friedman, MD, is a neurologist who was not part of the above study. She reports there have been a few studies showing people who have auras before a migraine are at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and other vascular issues.

The Importance of Preventing Headaches

Nedergaard goes on to explain a little further how cortical spreading depression (CSD) leads to brain tissue damage. After CSD occurs, the brain tries to recover. This throws off crucial ions such as sodium and potassium, leaving the brain unable to work at its optimum. This change in chemical composition spreads across the brain, causing it to be under extreme stress. It now works overtime to get more oxygen to compensate for the changes taking place. Oxygen-rich blood floods the area so that the brain tissue can work efficiently. In fact, the team discovered the brain’s arteries expand by over 50 percent to keep up with demand.

This is the point where things start to become interesting. Blood flow increases and carries more oxygen to the brain overall; however, pockets of severe hypoxia still remain. Basically, the brain supply cannot keep up with the demand. The brain tissue that is closest to the oxygen-rich blood vessels uses up the supply of oxygen as quickly as they can, leaving tissues further away without enough oxygen. This puts these brain cells in jeopardy of dying.

We must now focus on how to prevent migraines from happening as this research shows them to be dangerous, not only painful. Nedergaard says that by the time someone is experiencing pain or having visual issues, the changes in the brain are already taking place. So, how can migraine headaches be prevented?

Headaches and Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care

Headaches have repeatedly been linked to a misalignment in the bones of the upper cervical spine. In particular, the C1 and C2 are more susceptible to misaligning than the other bones of the spine due to their location and their ability to allow the head to move in so many directions. These bones protect the delicate brainstem from damage. However, when they misalign, they put the brainstem under pressure or stress and cause it to send improper signals to the brain. This may lead to some of the issues involved with migraine headaches. Another problem that may come about is that oxygen-rich blood flow and cerebrospinal fluid flow are restricted from reaching the brain. If the brain is working overtime to get the extra flow of oxygen and the misaligned bones of the neck are obstructing it, headaches and brain tissue damage may follow.

Upper cervical chiropractors are specially trained to detect these tiny misalignments. We then employ a gentle method that helps the bones to move back into place more naturally than forcing them by cracking or popping the spine. Our method does not use force and leads to longer-lasting results. Our patients, as well as those in case studies, have seen their headaches and migraines improve greatly or go away completely after only a few visits.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.