Migraine affects 15 per cent of UK adults, leaving these individuals incapacitated by throbbing head pains, nausea and sensitivity to light. The cause is still unclear, though abnormal brain activity is thought to be involved, in particular overexcited pain pathways. Visualising human brain activity, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (a variant of conventional magnetic resonance imaging, pictured), demonstrates how migraine sufferers respond differently to pain. A brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex controls how we perceive pain. Activity in this region was higher in migraine patients than in healthy individuals, despite both groups being subjected to and perceiving the same level of pain. Migraine sufferers may acquire this different brain response to compensate for their overexcited pain pathways, bringing their pain perception down to that of healthy individuals. Understanding how a brain under the burden of migraine copes in painful circumstances may expose new targets for migraine treatment.
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