Study on the virtual roller coaster ride brings new insights into migraines

From Denise Mann
HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY, July 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Roller coasters soar up, down, back again at breakneck speed, but when you’re among the millions of people who get migraines, the risks may not be worth the thrill.

A new study by German researchers shows that people who get migraines are more likely to experience motion sickness and dizziness after a virtual rollercoaster ride than people who don’t get these blinding headaches.

These symptoms correlated directly with changes in key areas of the brain, the researchers said, and these findings could further advance research on headache relief.

“Migraineurs reported more dizziness, motion sickness, and longer symptom duration and intensity when taking a virtual roller coaster ride, and migraineurs’ brains reacted differently,” said study author Dr. Arne May, Professor of Neurology at the University of Hamburg. “We didn’t just find differences in [symptoms], but also with specific activation of areas in the cerebellum and the frontal gyrus. “

The brain’s cerebellum helps regulate balance, and the frontal gyrus is responsible for visual processing.

The new findings are more than just a cautionary story about the risks of roller coaster rides for people with a history of migraines.

For the study, 20 people with a history of migraines and 20 people without such a history watched videos to experience a virtual roller coaster ride while researchers used functional MRI scans to track brain activity.

No one had a migraine while on the virtual drive, but 65% of people with migraines experienced dizziness compared to 30% of those who had no history of the headache. In addition, people with migraines also had symptoms for longer periods of time than their non-migraine counterparts, an average of 1 minute 19 seconds compared to 27 seconds. People with migraines also reported more intense motion sickness, the study showed.

People with migraines had increased activity in five areas of the brain that correlated with migraine disability and motion sickness, May said. “Migraineurs process visual input differently than other people, and in this case activate a specific brain network,” May explained.

Dizziness and motion sickness are often neglected by doctors who treat migraines, even though they are part of the spectrum of symptoms of this disease. “If we can explain such symptoms and show that a certain area of ​​the brain is activated when an attack occurs, they will be better accepted,” May said.

The study appears in Neurology on July 21st.

Headache specialists said the results improve understanding and stress of migraines.

“It really confirms the dizziness and sensitivity to movement that migraineurs experience and expands our perception of migraines as a sensory disorder,” said Dr. Teshamae Monteith. She is an Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology and Head of the Headache Department at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. Monteith is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Migraine is an invisible condition, but these imaging results confirm the dizziness and sensitivity to movement and make us think about outcomes other than headaches,” said Monteith. “These symptoms can lead to disability and can also occur while playing virtual reality video games.”

“Dizziness is a common symptom reported by migraineurs,” agreed Dr. Brian Grosberg, director of the Hartford HealthCare Headache Center in Connecticut, added. “The results of this study substantiate this experience and include areas of the brain that are involved in processing.”

More information

Learn more about migraines and their treatment at the American Academy of Neurology.

SOURCES: Arne May, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology, University of Hamburg, Germany; Teshamae Monteith, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology and Head of the Headache Department, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami; Brian Grosberg, MD, director, Hartford HealthCare Headache Center, Hartford, Connecticut; Neurology, July 21, 2021