Home > Headaches > Are Migraines Linked With Stroke?

Are Migraines Linked With Stroke?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 13 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Migraine Stroke Transient Ischaemic

Several recent studies have shown that people who have strokes are not as healthy before their stroke as they felt. Many have evidence of previous mini strokes, or transient ischaemic attacks, that have left small, damaged areas in their brain tissue. Around 30 per cent of patients in one study had small, ‘silent’ brain lesions that show they have suffered a tiny blood clot in the past. Most of them were relatively young – aged somewhere between 18 and 50 years old, and a significant proportion reported suffering from migraines.

Other risk factors that made it more likely that there were many small areas of damage in the brain included age – they were more common in people over 40 – and a history of hypertension (high blood pressure), angina, heart attack, migraine or atherosclerosis.

Migraine With Aura

The link between stroke and migraine is a very contentious but interesting one. It is not yet known for definite how the two are connected. Do strokes happen more often in people who suffer from regular migraines because the migraines damage the brain and make it more likely for a stroke to occur? Or are people who are more prone to strokes, suffering from an underlying problem with the blood vessels in their brain that makes it more likely that they will have migraine?

On observation that seems to be important is that the association between stroke and migraine is only significant if the migraine is preceded by an aura. A proportion of people who experience migraine have a warning just before the actual headache begins. This can take the form of a strange ‘feeling’ or the person affected can see flashing lights and shapes in their vision. Migraine sufferers who usually have migraine with aura are more likely to have a stroke at a relatively young age, which has suggested to some researchers that the aura is a sign that the brain is being damaged by the migraine attack.

Prevent Migraine to Prevent Stroke?

The studies that have been carried out to date have been in a relatively small number of patients – hundreds but not thousands – so it is difficult to be certain that there is a true link. If further studies corroborate the evidence collected, this will make it much more important to provide better care for people with migraine, particularly those who have frequent attacks and who often experience an aura. Taking preventive medication to cut down the number of attacks could help to prevent some of the small areas of damage to brain tissue and blood vessels, and so lessen the risk of a major stroke.

Women Particularly at Risk

One of the studies released in the last year suggested that women who have migraine preceded by an aura are more likely than men to have strokes, even though they have the relative protective effect of female sex hormones. Women do tend to get migraines more often than men, but women with aura-type migraines are also four times more likely to have a stroke than other women who don’t have migraine. The risk is also worse in women who take the oral contraceptive pill, perhaps suggesting that women who experience frequent migraines and aura should discuss a different kind of contraception with their doctor.

Strokes and Migraines at Different Times

It is not likely that the pain of a migraine brings on a stroke. The studies all indicated that strokes, even mini strokes, tend to occur between migraine attacks, not during an attack. If brain blood vessels are being damaged when the sensation of an aura, or the flashing lights, are experienced, it is possible that this takes a few days to cause a change in circulation that is significant enough to cause a clot to form in one of the larger brain blood vessels.

Although there are many uncertainties, one thing that doctors agree on is that people who have regular migraines, and perhaps symptoms of having had transient ischaemic attacks, should try to reduce their cardiovascular risk factors as much as possible. That means losing weight, maintaining a healthy weight, giving up smoking, eating healthily, drinking alcohol at a safe level, and taking regular exercise.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopfully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Mumof3
    Re: Headache With Pins and Needles: Is This Serious?
    I have pins and needles beneath my feet, it has been there for three days now- and hasn't gone away.…
    25 March 2017
  • Ms. Haider
    Re: Headaches and Eyesight
    I wear soft contact lenses in the day time and take them out only when I'm ready to sleep. Even then if the contacts are out and I close…
    12 March 2017
  • Stassie
    Re: Migraine Classification
    My daughter has been diagnosed with migraine as she has most of the symptoms, so her neurologist said it was a classic one; He prescribed…
    10 March 2017
  • Alexandra
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    I had hit ny head on a table and got a headache and it was getting worse so i went home, in the car i had passes out and my mom…
    10 March 2017
  • Alleycat
    Re: Headaches During The Night
    I have started walking with a headache about an hour after falling asleep.This happens at night or if I am sleeping during the day.…
    10 March 2017
  • Jad
    Re: Headaches and Iron Deficiency
    For the last year I've been getting shooting pains up and down the left side of my head which was diagnosed as trigeminal…
    8 March 2017
  • Stassie
    Re: Headaches Caused by Tensions and Stress
    Hi, My daughter, 16, has been diagnosed with having tension headaches, (via CAT scan and MRI) when she was 11. Since…
    7 March 2017
  • DUNK
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    I have suffered severe eye, scalp, jaw pain for 5 years. The pain has been so bad I have thought about suicide more than once. The…
    6 March 2017
  • "common-cold antenna
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    I've had this pain on my scalp in approximately the same area for a long time ( about 26yrs ). It happens just before I get a bout…
    26 February 2017
  • Julie
    Re: What is the Headache Impact Test?
    I wake up with severe headaches in the middle of the night. What do i do to stop it
    12 February 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the HeadacheExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.