Are Migraines and Stroke Risk Linked?

New research has shown a curious link between migraines and stroke. Here’s what you need to know if you suffer from the debilitating pain of migraines.

What’s the Link Between Migraines and Stroke Risk?

As many as 17 per cent of women and six per cent of men have experienced the debilitating pain of a migraine. What’s curious is that new research shows that women who have migraines accompanied by their distinctive “aura” symptoms are at greater risk of having a stroke than those who don’t get migraines.

Why the link?

Migraine headaches are caused by inflammation of the arteries surrounding the brain. Other arteries inside the brain may spasm during an attack as well, temporarily cutting off circulation, thus increasing the odds of a stroke.

Additional risks

Abnormalities in the lining of arteries may also allow blood to clot more readily. “And in rare cases, arteries leading to the brain may tear more easily,” says Gretchen Tietjen, MD, a professor of neurology at the University of Toledo.

These tears can cause vessels to narrow and clots to form. Extra estrogen from oral contraceptives (especially in smokers) or hormone therapy can further boost clotting factors to create a perfect storm for a stroke.

How to reduce your risks

Low-dose acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) has been shown to decrease stroke risk in women over 45 and may prevent migraines too.

Doctors can help you reduce the risks associated with abnormal arteries. Maintaining healthy blood pressure is one way, but also ask your physician to order a routine blood test to determine whether you have markers for increased clotting. If you do, discuss ASA therapy, anti-clotting medications, or alternatives to hormone therapy.

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