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Migraine and Stroke

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TUESDAY, Nov. 15, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Women who experience migraines have more than double the risk of suffering a stroke, new research shows. The finding adds evidence to the suspected link between these two conditions.

 

Although it's not yet clear why this connection may exist, study lead author Dr. Cecil Rambarat said it's important for health care providers to be aware of the link.

 

"This is important since migraine is generally not considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease," said Rambarat. He's a resident physician at the University of Florida Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

 

"Maybe providers need to factor in migraine headaches as a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease among women," he said. "This is not being done currently."

 

Previous research has linked migraines -- especially the form known as migraine with aura -- to stroke. Migraine with aura is estimated to affect one in four migraine patients, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. In these people, changes in vision may accompany their headaches, including blurry vision, sensitivity to bright lights or more dramatic effects such as seeing zig-zag or squiggly lines.

 

The new study tracked more than 900 U.S. women who showed signs of heart disease between 1996 and 1999. The average age of the participants was 58, and the majority (80 percent) were white.

 

During six years of follow-up, 18 percent of the women with a history of migraine headaches had a heart attack or stroke compared to 17 percent of those who didn't experience migraines, according to Rambarat.

 

But, the difference became "significant" after the researchers adjusted their statistics to account for other risk factors, Rambarat said. The researchers found that migraine patients were nearly twice as likely to suffer from cardiac problems -- such as heart attack or stroke -- than those who didn't have migraines, and had more than double the risk of a stroke specifically, he said.

 

Although the study doesn't prove a cause-and-effect link between migraines and strokes, there are several theories about the apparent connection.

 

Dr. Gretchen Tietjen is director of the Headache Research and Treatment Center at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences in Ohio. "Since both affect the brain, it's easier when you try to draw the link between migraine and stroke," instead of migraine and heart disease, she said.


 

But it's possible that the issue may lie in blood vessels as a whole, not just those in the brain, since the vessels play a role in strokes, other kinds of cardiac conditions and migraines, Tietjen said.

 

Inflammation -- swelling -- and higher levels of blood clotting may play a role in both cardiac problems and migraines, she said. The clogged arteries and high blood pressure that contribute to heart disease, however, don't seem to be connected to migraines, she added.

 

Tietjen cautioned that there's no need for women with migraines to panic, especially younger ones, since the risk of cardiac problems is still low. It appears less than 1 percent of strokes are related to migraines in women, she said. "It's not zero, and it's not a huge number," she said.

 

As for the risk in men, the study didn't look at whether a similar migraine-stroke connection might exist in them. Rambarat said other research has suggested a link, but he noted that migraines are much less common in men.

 

As for preventing migraines, Rambarat isn't recommending that women with migraines take special precautions, although he said physicians can do more to lower the risk of cardiac problems in younger patients. Doctors can start by asking female patients at risk for heart disease about whether they have a history of migraines, he said.

 

Tietjen said women with migraines should control their risk factors for heart disease. They should avoid smoking, control cholesterol and be cautious about estrogen-based birth control pills because they may increase the risk of stroke.

 

The study was scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the American Heart Association annual meeting, in New Orleans. Research released at conferences should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

 

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Kelli, after seeing this, I'm confused!!  I never had migraines before strokes, but started having them afterward.  Same for my mom!   :freaked: 

 

I think it would be quite interesting if you started a poll or survey on members, asking if they had migraines before, after or never?

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I had occasional migraines pre stroke, as do most of the women in my immediate family (mother, grandmother, sister, nieces)  The funny thing is I don't think I've had one since the stroke., I have had the occasional really nasty headache, but not the full blown "please shoot me now" migraine. I also haven't had the "background migraines" I used to get where you get all the sensory effects of the migraine without the actual headache.  Those are nasty, and make you feel quite ill , but are really hard to shift, it can take 48 hours for you to realise what they are and take the migraine meds that get rid of it.

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I have often been amazed at the number of survivors on Board who have a history of migraines (myself included). It wouldn't surprise me if researchers found a connection. I don't know if migraines cause strokes so much as warn you, much as a TIA can, that a BIG BOY may be coming! I wish that, on the basis of this research, ins. cos. would OK docs to give their migraine-suffering pts preventative meds like cholesterol busters, and every 6 mo. check-ups. We need to do what we can to stop this beast before it strikes! Becky

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Not to change the topic, because I'd like to hear more about this.

 

But somewhere (?) I heard that acid reflux (GERD) increases the risk of stroke.....I must be a**-backwards, because I started to have acid reflux after strokes, not before!  :blink: 

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When I was having prodrome or like pre stroke for about 3 days I had what I would call a migraine with aura for 3 days. Once I collapsed the headache was like something I can't explain. Like a snap of your finger I was fine one minute and then forever changed the next. While in the ER I also was not diagnosed correctly.

They kept saying it had to be a migraine even though I had never had a migraine before the 3 days. I was observed overnight and then sent home with migraine medicine. It definately was pain radiating through my head and the sun caused weird vision changes like colorful heat waves. I was missing my sunglasses that weekend. I do know it was a headache that would not get better with medicine I was just a busy mom and did what I always do. I don't know if this really was a migraine or that something was just starting to happen in my brain. It did fit the description of migraine right until it completed and I collapsed.

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Lin, Acid reflux after a stroke makes sense, like the incontinence stuff it happens because the sphincter muscle control has been weakened.    I would expect this to be quite common for stroke survivors who also have swallowing problems.  Now that you mention it mine has been worse after the stroke, although it's not bad enough to go back to the drugs.  My GERD had been in remission for a few years(unless I ate something silly of course) before my stroke, and it's still OK most of the time.  For me it started after a gastroscopy when the sphincter got irritated.

 

Tracy, unless you are a migraine sufferer you won't necessarily recognise a migraine so I'm not surprised that ER staff get it wrong so often.

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Thanks for the info, Heather!  :thumbs up:

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i  had swallowing issues after stroke, and had a feeding tube for awhile. When I was being taught to eat, they put me on an OTC med for acid reflux, even though I never had digestive issues pre-stroke. After a week or so, with no symptoms, they discontinued it. Becky

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