As anyone who has experienced one knows, there is absolutely nothing like a migraine headache. A migraine headache can be debilitating for hours and sometimes for days. The migraine headache is considered a vascular headache, although the precise mechanism and cause remain unknown. There are several known triggers, some of which include food allergies, blood sugar disturbances, stress load, mechanical injury, and hormonal fluctuations. Treating a migraine means working with these triggers. The majority of people suffering from classic migraine have an aura that develops 10-30 minutes prior to development of the actual headache. According to recent studies, the aura is believed to be the response to a trigger that creates a neuronal depression. This may result in as much as a 25-35 percent reduction in cerebral blood flow, and is certainly enough to cause the symptoms associated with the aura.
The term “stroke” or “paralytic stroke” is commonly used to describe a sudden problem with the brain that is usually related to its blood supply. A “stroke,” therefore, can be due to ischemia (decreased blood supply), infarction (interrupted blood supply), or hemorrhage (severe bleeding), and usually means that there is some kind of permanent problem with the nervous system. All three of these causes (ischemia, infarction, or hemorrhage) would be due to cerebrovascular disease (disease related to the blood supply to the brain).
Researchers recently reviewed the results of 21 previous studies and have confirmed that there is a connection between migraine headaches and ischemic stroke risk. The studies in the meta-analysis included a total of 622,381 participants. The results revealed that even when the researchers adjusted for age, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking habits and weight, migraine sufferers still had a two-fold increase in stroke risk. Although it is not certain why the link exists, it is thought that some common underlying process contributes to both migraines and stroke risk. Some researchers suggest that people with migraines may have dysfunction in the blood vessels throughout the body, which may explain the increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Since it is not known whether preventing or treating migraines can reduce stroke risk, researchers believe it is best for migraine sufferers to focus on controlling modifiable stroke risk factors, which include treating high blood pressure and quitting smoking.1
1 Spector JT, Kahn SR, Jones MR, et al. Migraine Headache and Ischemic Stroke Risk: An Updated Meta-analysis. Am J Med. May2010.