A new study has revealed that people who suffer from migraines may feel like the time passes a bit more slowly than it actually does.
According to a headache specialist, who is not involved in the study, the difference in time perception seems subtle - it's seen in people's perception of milliseconds. But the findings help validate the common complaint of migraine sufferers that they feel a bit "off" at times.
The new research observed 27 adults with migraines and the same number of headache-free adults of 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, 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," Fox quoted Kriegler, who was not involved in the current study, as saying.
"They don't feel like they're processing information as clearly," she said.
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.
The current time perception study was small, Kriegler said, but it was well done. And it suggests that the foggy feeling migraine sufferers report is not just due to the pain.
"It may be because of differences in brain processing," Kriegler said.
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.
In this study, migraine sufferers were different in their perception of the 600-millisecond time frame, but not the longer, three- to five-second windows.
It's not clear what to make of that. Kriegler said that since the study was so small more research is needed to see whether it really is only the millisecond arena where people with migraines differ.
She also said it was "significant" that study participants with migraines were not actively having headaches during the testing. So even in between migraines there's a difference in brain functioning.
The current findings, she said, offer some "validation" to people who have felt that their migraines put them "off their game."
Doctors, she noted, may brush off such complaints. "But patient knows there's something wrong."
The study was recently published in the journal Headache.