Blood Test Identifies Women Prone to Migraine

By Pat Anson, Editor

Researchers may have discovered a new marker for episodic migraine – lipids in the blood that regulate inflammation in the brain.

In a small study involving 88 women, researchers found that total levels of the lipids -- called ceramides or sphingolipids -- were significantly decreased in women with episodic migraine when compared to women without migraine. Episodic migraine is defined as less than 15 headaches per month. The women in this study had an average of 5.6 headache days a month.

"While more research is needed to confirm these initial findings, the possibility of discovering a new biomarker for migraine is exciting," said study author B. Lee Peterlin, DO, with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The study is published in Neurology,  the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Ceremides are bioactive lipids that may be involved in other neurological disorders, such as dementia and multiple sclerosis.

Women with migraine had approximately 6,000 nanograms per milliliter of ceramides in their blood; while women without headache had about 10,500 nanograms. Every standard deviation increase in total ceramide levels was associated with over a 92% lower risk of having migraine. Two other types of lipids, called sphingomyelin, were associated with a 2.5 times greater risk of migraine.

The researchers tested their theory by analyzing the blood of a random sample of 14 of the women. They were able to correctly identify those who had migraine and those who did not based on their lipid levels.

"This study is a very important contribution to our understanding of the underpinnings of migraine and may have wide-ranging effects in diagnosing and treating migraine if the results are replicated in further studies," said Karl Ekbom, MD, with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, who wrote an accompanying editorial.

Ekbom noted there were limitations in the study. Only women were included, chronic migraine was not studiedm and an unusually high number of participants had migraine with aura

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.