Migraines and Strokes: What is the Commom Link?

Do adults who suffer from migraines have a greater risk of having strokes later on in life? Migraine is the most common form of headaches in young adults, especially women. Headaches affect as many as twenty-five percent of all women in their mid to late 30’s. Studies are now showing that adults with a history of migraines could also be at risk for stroke.


A migraine is a type of headache, caused by spasms of the arteries leading into the head. Migraines are a particular form of recurrent headache that often run in families. It is characterized by throbbing head pain, often greater on one side. Sensations such as visual changes, called auras, may precede a migraine. Migraines may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. In rare cases, weakness, language problems or other neurological disorders are associated with the migraine.


Around one in five migraine sufferers experience what are known as “focal neurological symptoms” or migraine aura. It is usually a visual symptom, such as an arc of sparkling, zigzag lines or a blotting out of vision or both. A migraine aura sufferer may first notice a black spot in the field of vision. Other brain-related symptoms may occur, such as numbness of one side of the face and hand.

A slow spreading depression of nerve cell activity is believed to account for the pattern of development of the typical aura. The symptoms of an aura can build up gradually and move slowly from one visual region or one part of the body to another.


A stroke is a condition produced by a blood clot that lodges in an artery and blocks the blood flow to a portion of the brain, producing symptoms ranging from paralysis of limbs and loss of speech to unconsciousness and death. The part of the brain deprived of blood dies and can no longer function.

Strokes are classified as a group of brain disorders involving a loss of functions (neurological deficits) that occur when the blood supply to any part of the brain is interrupted. Even if there is only a brief interruption of circulation it can still cause decreases in brain function. A stroke affects about 4 out of 1,000 people.


Stroke and migraine aura can have similar symptoms. Problems can occur if what’s known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is mistaken for a migraine. TIA is a minor stroke and it is a powerful warning that a sever stroke may follow. The symptoms of a TIA are identical to those of a full stroke, but disappear within 24 hours. Migraine aura and TIA’s have similar symptoms, such as speech disturbances, weakness and problems with vision. Since the symptoms of TIA’s go away within hours, the person may mistakenly believe they suffered nothing more than a migraine.

The broad differences between a migraine and a TIA include:

�Visual Disturbances-in TIA the only disturbance is vision loss, whereas visual disturbance in migraine includes flashing lights and zigzagging lines as well.
�Speed of Attack-in TIA the symptoms occur suddenly and migraine symptoms spread slowly over a few minutes.
�Age of onset-migraine tends to first occur when an individual is young. Stroke is more common in older people.

The link between migraine and stroke risk is unknown. Although one explanation could relate to decrease blood flow to the brain seen with migraines, which is also a factor when artery blockages cut off blood to the brain resulting in a stroke.

A review of 14 studies into the link between the headaches and stroke showed patients who have auras, or light effects, with their migraine are even more at risk. People who suffer from migraines were 2.16 times more likely to have strokes later than those who did not have the headaches. Those who routinely suffer visual blockages called auras along with their headaches have a slightly higher stroke risk.


If you are having a migraine that is worst than any other you have ever had it is important to seek immediate medical care. Extreme head pain can be a symptom of a stroke. Other symptoms that warrant immediate medical care are numbness or paralysis that you have not experienced with a Migraine before, losing consciousness during a migraine and severe, unremitting migraine for more than 72 hours.

An important thing to remember is that the symptoms of a migraine and a stroke are very similar. The risk of stroke can be reduced by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as to quit smoking. Those who suffer from migraines should not panic, but as with any disease, the risks that a migraine presents need to be known so that the proper actions can be taken to avoid complications.

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