The Migraine-Stroke Connection

The Migraine-Stroke Connection

Migraines. Millions suffer from them and yet they remain one of the least understood, misdiagnosed and mistreated neurological disorder. Typically the migraine, though regarded by non-sufferers as “just another headache” can cause excruciating one-sided headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and/or noise and visual disturbances. And consider this, an estimated five to seventeen billion dollars is spent every year by lost workdays and healthcare costs for migraines alone!

Stroke. The leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Also known as a cerebrovascular accident or CVA, a stroke is a debilitating neurological disorder caused by a blockage of blood flow into the brain characterized by sudden numbness or weakness, usually on one side; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden difficulty seeing and/or walking; sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination and sudden severe headache. This oxygen depravation and cell death can result in paralysis, speech disturbances – even death.

But what does one have to do with the other? According to the Mayo Clinic twenty-five percent of cerebral infarctions (death of tissue following the stoppage of blood flow to the area) are caused by migraines in people under the age of 45.

So does this mean if you suffer from migraines you will experience a stroke? Though the link between strokes and migraines is not well understood, some medical professional believe that when suffering from a migraine attack, blood flow is decreased to the brain, much like when suffering a stroke. This decreased blood flow can diminish the supply of oxygen and nutrients, thus increasing the risk to stroke. According to the American Stroke Association, women’s risks jump by 25 – 70% when vision loss is experienced just prior or during an attack. They also suspect that oral contraceptives also increase the risks.

So what can you do? Risk factors for stroke include heart disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), diabetes, smoking, migraines and birth control pills (in women with a history of any of the above risks).

A healthy lifestyle with adequate exercise and weight management can help. Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control can also decrease the risks of strokes. Proper diagnosis and treatment of migraine attacks can lessen risks not only from strokes, but from permanent vision loss, aneurysms (abnormal dilation of blood vessels) and coma.

Migraines should not be seen as “just another headache”. Not only is the pain and other symptoms debilitating, they can be life-threatening and should be taken seriously, especially with sudden, unexplained onset of migraine pain. To put it in perspective, more people died from Migrainous Strokes last year than were killed by handguns!

Talk to your doctor about treatment options and other health conditions you may have to assure the proper steps in controlling pain and risks of serious side effects. Keeping track of migraine patterns is essential. Most often, understanding your personal triggers and taking steps to prevent migraines is the best treatment as there is no cure for the migraine. Of course there are triggers in which we have no control over, such as weather patterns and menstrual cycles, but taking control over those triggers in our power, such as lighting, alcohol, caffeine, stress and food preservatives can significantly decrease attacks, thus reducing the risks to more serious side effects, such as strokes.

Do not hesitate to seek immediate medical attention if an extreme, atypical migraine occurs as this can be a symptom of a stroke. Other symptoms, such as unusual numbness or paralysis and loss of consciousness and a severe, persistent migraine lasting more than 72 hours can also be precursors to strokes.

Not all migraine attacks will cause a stroke but frequent migraine attacks can seriously interfere with your daily life and increase the risks of suffering from other serious side effects. Now is the time to stop letting people minimize your pain – isn’t it time to take control for your own health and well-being? Migraines are much more than a pain in your head. Seeking help to control migraine attacks is the first step in reducing your risks of a lifetime of suffering or worse, a shortened life experience!

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