Migraine Headaches – Can It Cause Stroke?

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Migraine and stroke might seem like two different conditions altogether but some experts believe there is a complex relationship between the two. The underlying link between strokes and migraine is a subject of multiple investigations.

According to researches, people who suffer from migraine have an increased risk of suffering a stroke during or after a “thunderclap headache.” A thunderclap headache is one of the most severe types of migraine.

A majority of migraine sufferers who are affected by stroke are women ages 45 and below. Most have no traditional risk factors for stroke, including diabetes, high cholesterol, and high-blood pressure. But women who are taking birth control pills or are smokers run a higher risk of having a stroke after having a migraine attack.

Migraine is a type of neurological disorder characterized by occurring throbbing and headaches so severe, it interferes with normal day-to-day life. On the other hand, stroke is a condition where the brain’s oxygen supply is compromised. This leads to temporary or permanent brain damage and—depending on the severity of the attack—could lead to disability and loss of speech or language.

Migraine as a Cause of Stroke

The link between stroke and migraine has baffled scientists for decades. In fact, the International Headache Society has a term for the phenomenon. Since 1988, the glaring relationship between migraine and strokes was called “migranous infarction” to describe the condition where strokes occur during a migraine attack. Many patients who’ve suffered from ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes confirmed that they have history of migraine headaches in the past.

Recent studies suggest that migraine sufferers who see “auras” during an attack have an increased chance of suffering from silent stroke. Silent strokes are usually mild cases of stroke and are commonly found in the back regions of the brain, including the cerebellum. In one study, people who suffer more than one migraine with auras per month have a 16-fold higher chance of suffering from silent stroke, as well as ischemic stroke.

RCVS: The Hidden Connection Between Migraine and Stroke?

Experts believe that strokes are likely to occur when a person suffers from a condition called Reversible Cerebral Vaso-constriction Syndrome or RCV. In one study, virtually 50% of all participants who suffer from RCV have a history of frequent migraine headaches.

In RCV, the blood vessels in the brain go through a type of spasm. The spasm is strong enough to constrict blood flow to certain areas in the brain that may lead to stroke.

Despite growing concerns over the relationship between strokes and migraine, experts have yet to uncover the real reason why these conditions are somehow linked together.

Apart from migraines, some experts are looking to a heart condition called Patent Foramen Ovale as another reason why young people suffering from migraines also suffer from strokes later in life. Any link between migraine and stroke at this point is plainly speculative.

But despite the grim circumstance, there is a bit of good news for migraine sufferers. The likelihood of suffering a stroke via migraine attacks decreases as they age. Some scientists believe that migraine is prevalent only in young people. As people age, migraine headaches become infrequent, and most times, disappear altogether.


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