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Migraine Headaches are Linked to Strokes

Research Reveals Link

An analysis of 21 international studies involving more than 622,000 individuals with and without migraines and conducted from 1975 through 2007, confirms a connection between migraines and ischemic strokes. Ischemic strokes are the most common form of stroke and they occur when the blood flow to the brain is disrupted. Across the board, the studies indicated that migraine sufferers were twice as likely to suffer an ischemic stroke as people who do not suffer from migraines. These findings were published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2010.

Managing Risk Factors

Experts continue research studies to discover whether migraines themselves actually lead to strokes. However, it is likely that there is a common process inherent in both migraines and strokes according to Dr. Saman Nazarian, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and the senior researcher on a new study. At this point, his advice to migraine sufferers is to strictly control any factors that are modifiable in a bid to keep risks manageable.

"The main thing I would want (people) to take away from this is that if they get migraines, they should address stroke risk factors," Dr. Nazarian said. "They should not smoke and they should watch their blood pressure and have it treated if it is high."

The 21 international studies took several known risk factors into account that may help explain the connection between stroke and migraines. Some of these risk factors are practices that can be modified, some are not. Taken into account was age, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking habits and weight. By controlling some of the risk factors that can be managed, such as high blood pressure, weight, diabetes and smoking, the risk of stroke may be lowered somewhat.

Migraine Cause Still a Mystery

The exact cause of migraine headaches is still something of a mystery. What is known is that it involves the constriction and then swelling of brain blood vessels. One theory based on this information implies that people with migraine headaches may have faulty or dysfunctional blood vessels throughout the body. This concept would help explain why there is in increased risk of stroke and, in some studies, heart attack.

It is still unknown whether treating or preventing migraine headaches will have a lowering effect on cardiovascular problems or whether it will reduce some of the risk for stroke or heart attack. Researchers noted that theoretically some of the drugs used to treat migraines could lower the risk of cardiovascular issues while conversely; some medications such as anti-inflammatory painkillers have been linked to cardiovascular risks.