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Time perception may be off in migraine sufferers

People suffering from migraines may feel like time passes a bit more slowly than it actually does, recent research shows

Reuters, Saturday 4 Aug 2012
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The new research, reported in the journal Headache, involved 27 adults with migraines and the same number of headache-free adults the same age. All of them took a test of time perception in which they estimated the amount of time a series of rectangles appeared on their computer screen.

Sometimes the image appeared for 600 milliseconds (six tenths of a second), sometimes for three seconds and other times five seconds.

In general, the researchers found, people with migraines overestimated the 600-millisecond time window. They thought it lasted twice as long - about 1.2 seconds, on average - while the non-migraine group gave an estimate of about 0.9 seconds.

That's a small gap. But the findings support the idea that "migraine does indeed affect cognitive function," write Kai Wang and colleagues at Anhui Medical Center in Hefei, China.

Dr. Jennifer Kriegler, an associate professor of neurology at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, agreed.

"A lot of people who have migraines report that when they are in a bad headache period, they just feel like they are in a fog," said Kriegler, who was not involved in the current study. "They don't feel like they're processing information as clearly."

An extreme and very rare version of this effect, dubbed Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, has been seen in migraine and epilepsy sufferers. It involves distorted time perception and a sense of disconnection from reality and even self.

Worldwide, it's thought that 11 percent of the population has had a migraine in the past year. In the U.S. alone, migraines cost an estimated $20 billion a year in medical care and lost work productivity.

Migraines typically cause an intense throbbing sensation in one area of the head, plus sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea or vomiting in some cases.

About 30 percent of people with recurrent migraines also have sensory disturbances shortly before their headache hits. Those disturbances, known as aura, are usually visual - like seeing flashes of light or blind spots.

It's not completely clear what causes migraines, but they do appear to involve abnormal brain activity. And like the current study, some others have linked migraines - particularly those with aura - to differences in memory, reaction times and certain other cognitive abilities.

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