A virtual roller coaster triggered altered activity of brain cells associated with vertigo and motion sickness in people with migraines, even if they weren’t currently having an attack — a finding that could lead to a better understanding of migraines and the development of new treatments.
Anyone can feel nauseous and dizzy when riding a rollercoaster, but people who suffer from migraines often feel sick and dizzy during the thrilling ride. And the more people experience motion sickness and a general sense of helplessness from migraines, the more brain activity differs from normal while simulating a roller coaster, says Gabriella Carvalho of the University of Lubeck in Germany.
“Our findings show that areas of the brain involved in … processing migraine pain overlap with the brain systems that regulate motion sickness and vertigo,” she says. “People who have migraines don’t just have headaches; they often also have other conditions like motion sickness and vertigo which can really affect their quality of life. So this study really gives us a better idea of what’s going on.” [in their heads]. “
Carvalho and her colleagues performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on the brains of 40 people—half of whom regularly suffer from migraines—while watching realistic animated videos of a rollercoaster ride on a screen inside an MRI scanner continuously for 35 minutes.
The videos gave a view of a person sitting on the ride and included sounds of a car going off the rails. Participants in both groups were aged 30 years on average, and 80 percent of the members of both groups were female.
None of the participants experienced a migraine during the virtual tours, but 65% of those in the “migraine” group reported in a questionnaire that they felt dizzy during the simulation, while only 30% of the control group did.
People in the “migraine” group also rated their level of motion sickness at twice that of the control group, and the information they provided in the questionnaire showed that their symptoms of vertigo and motion sickness while riding lasted, on average, about three times longer. of those in the control group.
Carvalho says fMRI images corroborated these reports. In those who suffer from regular migraines, researchers note increased activity in the areas of the brain responsible for vision, pain perception, sensorimotor processing, balance, and dizziness. They also discovered more neural communication between these brain regions and other brain regions.
Meanwhile, these people had less activity in areas of the brain that deal with cognitive functions, including attention. The more vulnerable the study participants had migraines, and the more motion sick they felt, the more changes the scientists noticed in brain activity during the virtual flight.
If the findings are confirmed in more people, they may provide new insights into why some people get migraines. “People with and without migraines process information about movement and gravity differently, and these results reflect that,” Carvalho says. She adds that this may aid efforts to develop new treatments.
Journal reference: Neurology, doi: 10.1212/WNL.000000000000012443
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