In recent years, scientific research has started to explore the links between migraine headaches and other medical conditions. Previous studies have looked at depression, anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and heart attacks. Now researchers are gathering evidence that draws a connection between migraines and another serious disease: stroke.
What Is A Stroke?
A stroke occurs when the brain is cut off from its supply of blood and oxygen. In an ischemic stroke, the brain’s blood vessels are blocked by a clot or plaque. The second type of stroke, a hemorrhagic stroke, involves a busted blood vessel that floods the brain with blood. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.
Research Linking Migraines and Stroke
Dr. Tobias Kurth and his team of researchers from the United States and France recently wrapped up a migraine study as part of the overall Women’s Health Study. This enormous study was led by researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Starting in 1993, researchers followed 27,860 women for 15 years.
The migraine portion of the study specifically involved the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a medical research facility in Bordeaux, France. Out of the general study population, Kurth and his team found 1,435 women who had a history of migraine with aura. At the beginning of the research period, these women had no cardiovascular issues.
As the research progressed, the Women’s Health Study participants reported 528 total strokes. Most were ischemic (430) and a minority were hemorrhagic (96). Doctors were unable to determine the cause of the remaining two stokes.
Research analysts were however able to draw strong conclusions regarding the migraine with aura sufferers who had also experienced a stroke. They determined that the women who reported migraine with aura had an increased risk of all types of stroke. Migraine sufferers who did not experience an aura were in the general risk category.
When compared with other risk factors, migraine with aura was a strong contributor to stroke. The participants with high blood pressure had the most cardiovascular events, while women with migraine and aura were a very close second. That put migraine with aura as a stronger risk factor than diabetes, genetics, smoking, and obesity.
Although the evidence strongly supports it, researchers still aren’t sure why this link exists. One thought is that migraine with aura directly causes an increased risk of stroke. However, researchers also think that the migraine sufferer may have some blood vessel or genetically related issues that predispose them to the headaches, as well as make them more likely to suffer cardiovascular events.
Should Migraine with Aura Sufferers Be Worried?
Even though migraine with aura seems to be a risk factor for stroke, the relative risk is still low. Instead of focusing on this uncontrollable risk factor, doctors recommend that these migraine sufferers focus on reducing other unhealthy behaviors—high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and smoking.
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