When experiencing the ups and downs of a virtual roller coaster ride,
people who get migraine headaches reported more dizziness and motion
sickness than people who do not get migraines, according to a new study
published in the July 7, 2021, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Researchers also found that people who get migraines also had more
nerve cell activity in certain areas of the brain during the virtual
roller coaster ride and less activity in other areas. Researchers said
this abnormal processing of the visual motion stimuli in the brain was
linked to migraine disability and more susceptibility to motion
"Millions of people regularly experience painful and debilitating
migraine headaches that can reduce their quality of life," said study
author Arne May MD PhD, of the University of Hamburg in Germany.
"People with migraine often complain of dizziness, balance problems and
misperception of their body's place in space during migraine. By
simulating a virtual roller coaster ride, our study found that some of
these problems are not only magnified in people who experience migraine,
but they are also associated with changes in various areas of the
brain. By identifying and pinpointing these changes, our research could
lead to a better understanding of migraine which could in turn lead to
the development of better treatments."
The study involved 20 people with migraine who were compared to 20
people without migraine. Participants had an average age of 30 and more
than 80% were women. People with migraine had an average of 4 migraines per month.
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to
take brain scans of each participant as they watched videos to
experience the virtual roller coaster rides. No participants experienced
a migraine during the virtual rides. After the virtual rides,
participants were surveyed about their perceived levels of dizziness,
motion sickness, and other symptoms.
Researchers found that 65% of people with migraine experienced
dizziness compared to 30% of people without migraine. On a questionnaire
about motion sickness, which scored symptom intensity on a scale of
1-180, those with migraine had an average score of 47 compared to an
average score of 24 for people without migraine. People with migraine
also experienced symptoms longer, an average of 1 minute and 19 seconds
compared to an average of 27 seconds. Their symptoms were also more
From the brain scans, researchers were able to identify changes in
nerve cell activity based on blood flow to certain areas of the brain.
People with migraine had increased activity in five areas of the brain,
including two areas in the occipital gyrus, the visual processing area
of the brain, and decreased activity in two other areas including the
middle frontal gyrus. These brain changes correlated with migraine
disability and motion sickness scores.
"One other area of the brain where we found pronounced nerve cell
activity in people with migraine was within the pontine nuclei, which
helps regulate movement and other motor activity," said May. "This
increased activity could relate to abnormal transmission of visual,
auditory and sensory information within the brain. Future research
should now look at larger groups of people with migraine to see if our
findings can be confirmed."
Source: News Release
American Academy of Neurology
July 21, 2021