Migraines increase stroke risk

Women who have migraines with “aura” face a significantly higher risk for stroke, a study says.

The risk of having a stroke is dramatically higher for women who have recent migraines with visual symptoms known as an “aura”, according to a U.S. study.

The findings, published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, add to a growing body of evidence linking migraines and stroke risk.

“Women with migraines with visual symptoms were at a 1.5 fold increased risk compared to women without migraines,” said Dr. Steven Kittner, senior author of the study and staff physician at Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“Second, and probably the most important finding, women who had probable migraine with visual symptoms who also smoked and used oral contraceptives had seven times the risk of stroke than women who had probable migraine with visual symptoms alone,” he added.

While the findings may sound alarming, the “chance that a woman in the 15-to-44-age group will have an ischemic stroke is very low — one-to-two for every 10,000 people each year,” Kittner said.

To reduce risk of stroke, women who have migraines with visual symptoms should consider stopping smoking and finding alternatives to the use of estrogen-containing contraceptives, he said.

Visual symptoms

The visual symptoms or “aura” associated with a migraine include flashing lights, zig-zag lines and dark holes that increase in size.

For the study, Kittner’s team analyzed 386 women 15 to 49 years old with a first ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blot clot blocking blood flow to the brain. In addition, the researchers looked at 614 women of similar ages and ethnicities who had not suffered from a stroke.

The women, based on their responses to questions, were divided into three groups: those having no migraine, those having migraine without visual symptoms and finally those having migraine with visible symptoms.

Migraine and stroke had some risk factors in common, including high blood pressure and patent foramen ovale or PFO, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). PFO refers to a genetic heart defect caused by an opening between the heart’s left and right atria (upper chambers). For more information on the study, click here..

Tips for reducing risk of stroke

• Get your blood pressure under control. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for strokes. If your blood pressure isn’t where it should be, consult with your doctor about making dietary and lifestyle changes or possibly blood pressure medications.

• Quit smoking.

• Have your heartbeat checked regularly. An abnormal heartbeat can lead to the formation of blood clots, which can then travel to the brain.

• Get your cholesterol screened. In women, higher LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol) have been linked to a higher risk for stroke. For men, higher levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol) can lead to a reduced stroke risk. You may want to talk with your doctor about statins – a class of cholesterol medications – to lower stroke risk.