You can find out more about NPF's National Medical Director, Dr. Michael S. Okun, by also visiting the NPF Center of Excellence, University of Florida Center for Movement Disorders & Neurorestoration. Dr. Okun is also the author of the Amazon #1 Parkinson's Best Seller 10 Secrets to a Happier Life.

There has been speculation that migraine headache syndromes may have an important relationship to Parkinson’s disease. Though most associations uncovered by research studies have been speculative, two interesting papers appeared in the literature in the past few months, and investigators around the world have now rekindled the question, could headaches be related to Parkinson’s disease? In this month’s What’s Hot column I will review the two recent studies on this topic, and provide some potentially important information for patients who may suffer from both migraine headache and from Parkinson’s disease.

Nunes and colleagues conducted a study which intended to examine the lifetime prevalence and whether headache occurred during the previous year in Parkinson’s disease patients. The authors personally interviewed 98 patients with Parkinson’s disease and 98 control patients. Interestingly, in Parkinson’s disease patients there was a lower prevalence of headache in the previous year, and a lower prevalence of headache occurring during their lifetime. Parkinson’s patients with recent headaches more likely had migraine than another headache subtype called muscle tension headache. This study however suffered from several methodological flaws in the way the information was collected, and it left the field with more questions than answers. It did suggest the possibility that some patients with headache may achieve relief from dopaminergic therapy.

Scher and colleagues more carefully examined the issue of migraine and Parkinson’s disease by drawing on data from a carefully characterized cohort of patients followed by Icelandic doctors. The authors showed that, “subjects with midlife migraine, particularly migraine with aura, were in later life more likely than others to report parkinsonian symptoms and to be diagnosed formally with Parkinson’s disease. Women with migraine with aura (e.g. seeing spots or experiencing funny sensations with the headache) were more likely to have a parent or sibling with Parkinson’s disease.” The authors wondered whether there could be a common vulnerability to migraine in Parkinson’s disease, and whether having mid-life migraine could predict later Parkinson’s disease.

There have been several reports over the years in the literature trying to tie migraine to Parkinson’s disease, but to date the relationship has been tenuous. Though it is interesting that in this Icelandic cohort there was an association between migraine and Parkinson’s disease, a closer look at the methods of the study would suggest that we should wait for replication before embracing the results. One potential theory about Parkinson’s disease and migraine is that the common link may be abnormalities in dopamine and dopamine receptors; however this remains to be clearly demonstrated. Some doctors have suggested that dopamine treatment in Parkinson’s disease may actually help migraine headache and this has fueled the camps supporting an association. Another theory has been that in migraine sufferers there is a higher deposition of metals such as iron in the brain, and this deposition of metals may lead to the manifestation of Parkinson’s disease. The patients in this Icelandic study were not carefully examined and definitely diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Head trauma and other neurological issues have been known to manifest with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, and future studies will need to better control for these factors. Also, it is not clear whether the Icelandic cohort will be comparable to patients born in other regions of the world.

What do patients and family members need to know about migraine and Parkinson’s disease? Though it is tantalizing to link dopamine, dopamine receptors, and Parkinson’s disease to migraine, the data is far from conclusive. Migraine and headaches are both common disorders, and those suffering from migraine should not at this point fear that one day they will develop Parkinson’s disease. Though in the future there may be a proven relationship, at this time there is no reason for Parkinson’s disease patients to change treatments or to adjust therapies based on the presence or absence of migraines. Some Parkinson’s patients may however enjoy decreased migraines on dopaminergic drugs and who could argue with that outcome?

Selected References:

Nunes JC1, Costa Bergamaschi EN, Freitas FC, Diaz AP, Queiroz LP, Debona R, Prediger RD, Linhares MN, Lin K, Walz R. Prevalence of headache in patients with Parkinson's disease and its association with the side of motor symptom onset.
Author information. Neurol Sci. 2014 Apr;35(4):595-600. doi: 10.1007/s10072-013-1571-x. Epub 2013 Nov 7.

Scher AI1, Ross GW2, Sigurdsson S2, Garcia M2, Gudmundsson LS2, Sveinbjörnsdóttir S2, Wagner AK2, Gudnason V2, Launer LJ2. Midlife migraine and late-life parkinsonism: AGES-Reykjavik Study. Neurology. 2014 Sep 17. pii: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000840. [Epub ahead of print]

Posted: 10/2/2014 5:34:37 AM by Cathy Whitlock

Browse current and archived What's Hot in PD? articles, the National Parkinson Foundation's monthly blog for people with Parkinson's written by our National Medical Director, Dr. Michael S. Okun. 

September 2014
Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease: NPF Congratulates Mahlon DeLong and Alim-Louis Benabid and Looks to a Bright Future in Human Neural-Network Modulation

August 2014
Everything You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease

July 2014
The End for Levodopa Phobia: New Study Shows Sinemet is a Safe Initial Therapy for Treatment of Parkinson's Disease

June 2014
Is light therapy a potential treatment modality in Parkinson’s disease?

May 2014
How does the most common genetic cause of Parkinson’s Disease (LRRK2) cause Parkinson’s disease and could it be used to help develop a better therapy?

April 2014
An Update on DAT Scanning for Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

March 2014
Could Northera (Droxidopa) Be an Alternative Treatment for Low Blood Pressure and Passing Out Symptoms?

February 2014
The Dream of a Pill Free Existence and the Continuous Dopaminergic Pump for the Treatment of Parkinson's Disease

January 2014
Should I take Inosine to Raise my Uric Acid Levels and Treat my Parkinson’s Disease?

December 2013
Could Fungus and Mold be an Important Contributor to Parkinson’s Disease?

November 2013
Pimavanserin and the Hope for a Better Drug for Hallucinations and Psychosis in Parkinson’s Disease

October 2013
Halting of the Creatine Study

September 2013
The Importance of Identifying and Treating Caregiver Strain

August 2013
Putting Parkinson’s Disease Information into the Palm of Your Hand: Parkinson’s Enters the Smartphon

July 2013
What Parkinson’s Disease Patients Need to Know about H. Pylori Gastrointestinal Infections

June 2013
A2A Receptor Antagonists and Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

May 2013
Another Setback for Trophic Factor Treatment in Parkinson's Disease

April 2013
IPX066 and What Patients Really Want in New Carbidopa/Levodopa (Sinemet) Formulations

March 2013
The Weather Forecast for Parkinson’s Disease Calls for Worldwide Economic Storm

February 2013
Defeating the Barriers to Implementing Exercise Regimens in Parkinson’s Disease Patients

January 2013
When should you start medication therapy for Parkinson’s disease?

December 2012
Neurologist Care Reduces Hospitalizations in Parkinson's Disease

November 2012
A Victory in Court for Parkinson's Disease Patients who Require Ongoing Rehabilitative Therapies

October 2012
Given the recent FDA announcement about Mirapex (pramipexole), should I be worried about dopamine agonists?

September 2012
What about the new Parkinson’s Disease Vaccine? What should I know?

August 2012
Caffeine as a Potential Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

July 2012
Time to Consider GPi DBS for Parkinson’s Disease: A Shift in the Practice of Patient Selection for DBS

June 2012
A New Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease-Related Constipation

May 2012
Too Many Pills: Improving Delivery Systems for Parkinson’s Disease Drugs

April 2012
Measuring Quality and Assessing Depression in Parkinson's Disease

March 2012
Watch out for Unexpected Obstacles if You Use a Cueing Strategy to Break Freezing of Gait in Parkinson’s Disease

February 2012
Pill Color, Generic Medications and Insurance Issues: Important Medication-Related Tips for the Parkinson’s Disease Patient

January 2012
Are Blood Tests for Parkinson’s Disease on the Horizon?

December 2011
Placing Stem Cells in Animal Models of Parkinson’s Disease: Another Important Step

November 2011
Important News for the Parkinson’s Disease Community: More Evidence that Sinemet and Madopar are Not Toxic and do Not Accelerate Disease Progression

October 2011
The Case for All Parkinson’s Disease Patients to be Co-managed by a Primary Care-Neurologist Team

September 2011
Scientists say Research on Brain Proteins Involved in Parkinson’s Disease is “Shaping” Up

August 2011
Who Actually Takes Care of Most of the Parkinson’s Patients Worldwide: The Need for Education and the Parkinson’s Toolkit

July 2011
If you are Dizzy or Passing Out, it could be Your Parkinson’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease Medications

June 2011
How Will Group Visits for Parkinson’s Disease Fit into the Future of Parkinson’s Disease Care?

May 2011
Why Patients Should be Wary of Chelation Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

April 2011
Opening the Door to Gene Therapy in Parkinson’s Disease: The Need for Refinement of the Technology and Approach

March 2011
Does it Matter if I Can’t Get Brand Sinemet?

February 2011
Should I get a DaTscan or PET scan to confirm my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease?

January 2011
A Critical Reappraisal of the Worst Drugs in Parkinson’s Disease

December 2010
Environmental Risks for PD: Manganese, Welding, Mining, and Parkinsonism

November 2010
Calling for the FDA to Revise the Eight Sinemet a Day Rule

October 2010
Dry Cleaning Solvents and Potential Environmental Risks for Developing Parkinson’s Disease

September 2010
Maintaining the Balance: Why Parkinson’s Disease Patients Need to Understand Drug Recalls, Withdrawals, and Safety Alerts

August 2010
Shining a Light on Parkinson’s Disease: Optogenetics Has a Bright Future in Research

July 2010
Poor Medication Management of Parkinson's Disease During Hospital Admissions: Patients and Families Can Improve Their Hospital-Based Management

June 2010
Why Are Patches and Continuous Release Technology a Big Deal to Parkinson's?

May 2010
Is the PD SURG Trial Another Surge Forward for DBS Therapy?

April 2010
Cycling in PD in Those Who Can’t Walk: Is it Possible?

March 2010
New iPS Stem Cells for PD: What Does it Mean?

February 2010
Time for Comprehensive Care Networks for PD

January 2010
Is Parkinson's Disease a Prion Disease?

December 2009
Parkinson's Disease Linked to Gaucher's Disease

November 2009
Brain Cells Keep Time Stamps: Implications for Parkinson's Disease Therapies

October 2009
Is it Safe to Have an MRI with a DBS in Place?

September 2009
Take Care of Your Bones as They Are Affected in Parkinson's Disease (Even in Men)

August 2009
Is it Time to Start Paying Attention to Pain Symptoms in Parkinson's Disease Patients?

July 2009
Glutathione Fails to Demonstrate Significant Improvement in PD Symptoms

June 2009
Keeping an Eye on Trials Important to the Parkinson's Disease Patient

May 2009
Increased Risk of Melanoma in Parkinson's Disease

April 2009
Finally a DBS Expert Consensus Statement Aimed at Their True Customers: The Patients

March 2009
Pesticides and Environmental Exposure in Parkinson's disease: Should We Stay Away From the Stink Truck?

February 2009
Is Exercise Effective Treatment and Protection Against PD?

January 2009
Why are Transplant Trials Struggling to Succeed in the Treatment of PD?

December 2008
Are Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors Disease Modifying or Neuroprotective in PD?

November 2008
Update on Gene Therapy for Parkinson's Disease

Currently: 4.8 (5 ratings)


Each month, we will feature a new column by NPF's National Medical Director, Dr. Michael Okun, on the latest developments in Parkinson's disease research. Read the latest "What's Hot in PD?" below.

Subscribe to this blog


E-Newsletter Signup