Symptoms of autonomic dysfunction are common in patients with migraine, both during and between migraine attacks. Studies evaluating objective autonomic testing in patients have found significant, though somewhat conflicting results. The purposes of this review are to summarize and interpret the key findings of these studies, including those evaluating heart rate variability, autonomic reflex testing, and functional imaging in patients with migraine. The neuroanatomy of the central autonomic network as it relates to migraine is also reviewed.Several studies have evaluated autonomic balance in migraineurs, with conflicting results on the magnitude of sympathetic versus parasympathetic dysfunction. Most studies demonstrate sympathetic impairment, with a lesser degree of parasympathetic impairment. Three trends have emerged: (1) migraine with aura tends to produce more significant autonomic dysfunction than migraine without aura, (2) sympathetic impairment is more common than parasympathetic impairment, and (3) sympathetic impairment is common in the interictal period, with increased sympathetic responsiveness during the ictal period, suggesting adrenoreceptor hypersensitivity.
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