Migraine and cerebral white matter lesions: When to suspect cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL)

Jonathan P. Gladstone, David William Dodick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

56 Scopus citations


Background: Patients with migraine are at an increased risk for white matter lesions, typically multiple, small, punctate hyperintensities in the deep or periventricular white matter, best observed on magnetic resonance imaging utilizing T2-weighted or FLAIR sequences. The underlying pathogenesis of white matter lesions in migraineurs is unknown, and the lesions are usually nonspecific and of unclear clinical significance. Review Summary: Often the presence of white matter lesions causes uncertainty for physicians and anxiety for patients and may lead to a variety of diagnostic tests and treatments. Occasionally, white matter lesions may represent a secondary cause for headaches such as CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy). CADASIL is underrecognized and underdiagnosed; it should be suggested by (i) 1 or more of recurrent subcortical ischemic strokes (especially before age 60 and in the absence of vascular risk factors), migraine (especially with aura, including atypical or prolonged auras) and/or early cognitive decline or subcortical dementia; (ii) bilateral, multifocal, T2/FLAIR hyperintensities in the deep white matter and periventricular white matter with lesions involving the anterior temporal pole, external capsule, basal ganglia, and/or pons; and (iii) an autosomal-dominant family history of migraine, early-onset stroke, or dementia. The clinical spectrum of CADASIL is broad, and there is a poor genotype-phenotype correlation. In certain individuals or families, migraine may be the only clinical manifestation. Conclusions: While the prevalence of nonspecific white matter lesions in migraineurs is increased, the white matter lesions may occasionally represent a secondary cause for headache such as CADASIL. Greater awareness of the unique clinical, neuroimaging, and pathologic features, as well as the availability of diagnostic genetic testing, should enhance the recognition and diagnosis of this fascinating condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-29
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005



  • Migraine
  • White matter lesions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology

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