People who are prone to suffering migraines in middle age are more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, a new study has found.
Those who suffer early warning signs, known as migraine aura, which include seeing flashing lights, were found to be most at risk, scientists have said.
The link is thought to be associated with a dysfunction in the brain messenger dopamine, but researchers stressed the risk is still low.
NHS figures show around one in every five women, and one in every 15 men suffer migraines, which usually begin in early adulthood.
Yet the exact cause of migraines is unknown.
They are thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.
Around half of all people who experience migraines also have a close relative with the condition, suggesting that genes may play a role.
Dr Ann Scher of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda said: ‘Migraine is the most common brain disorder in both men and women.
‘It has been linked in other studies to cerebrovascular and heart disease.
‘This new possible association is one more reason research is needed to understand, prevent and treat the condition.
‘A dysfunction in the brain messenger dopamine is common to both Parkinson’s and restless legs syndrome (RLS), and has been hypothesised as a possible cause of migraine for many years.
‘Symptoms of migraine such as excessive yawning, nausea and vomiting are thought to be related to dopamine receptor stimulation.
‘More research should focus on exploring this possible link through genetic studies.
‘While the history of migraine is associated with an increased risk for Parkinson’s, that risk is still quite low.’
The study published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, examined 5,620 people aged between 33 and 65 over a 25-year period.
At the start of the study, 3,924 had no headaches, 1,028 had headaches with no migraine symptoms, 238 had migraine with no aura and 430 had migraine with aura.
As the study progressed the participants were assessed for any symptoms of Parkinson’s, been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or had symptoms of RLS – also known as Willis-Ekbom disease.
A total of 2.4 per cent of those with migraine with aura had the disease, compared to 1.1 per cent of those with no headaches.
People with migraine with aura were 3.6 times more likely to report at least four of six symptoms of Parkinson’s, while those with migraine with no aura had 2.3 times the odds of these symptoms.
Overall, 19.7 per cent of those with migraine with aura had symptoms, compared to 12.6 per cent of those with migraine with no aura and 7.5 per cent of those with no headaches.
Women with migraine with aura were also more likely to have a family history of Parkinson’s disease compared to those with no headaches.
Professor David Burn, Parkinson’s UK Clinical Director, said: ‘People who suffer from migraines should not be concerned by this new research.
‘Although the results suggest that migraines could double your risk of Parkinson’s in later life, this risk is still very low.
‘We’ve known for a while there is a small link between migraine and Parkinson’s. If further research confirms this then migraine could be included as one of a number of early-warning symptoms used to identify people at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.’