Migraine headaches – May Cause Strokes

Migraine with Aura May Cause Stroke

Migraine headaches can be quite debilitating and are now considered more dangerous when preceded by auras, as they may cause a stroke. A migraine is a neurological syndrome characterized by altered bodily perceptions, severe headaches, and nausea. Other symptoms include sound and light sensitivity. Also about 1/3 of migraine sufferers have migraines preceded by auras. An aura is kind of a warning symptom which includes flashes or light, blind spots or tingling in your arm or leg.

A typical migraine is unilateral and affects one half of your head and the pulsating can last from 4 to 72 hours. I had migraine headaches when I was younger with the aura, which was always a visual disturbance in my case, plus the pain always started in my right temple. Fortunately, I rarely get a migraine anymore and the medicine relieves it rather quickly.

Migraine with Aura

Photo Courtesy of Migraine Association
Photo Courtesy of Migraine Association

Different Types of Headaches

Migraine treatments usually include anti-nausea and analgesic drugs and medications. There is no cure but there are medications that help reduce the frequency and the severity of the headaches. There are several different types of headaches from tension, sinus, and fatigue, and there are cluster headaches which are very painful. With any of these headaches you are just looking for headache relief. Migraines usually begin in childhood or adolescence and are equally divided between boys and girls, but 75% of the adult patients are women.

Brain Electrical Impulses

Photo Courtesy of Mynews
Photo Courtesy of Mynews

Possible Causes of Migraines

The cause of migraines is unknown but there are some factors that may trigger a migraine – MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Bright lights, loud noises, and certain odors or perfumes
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Smoking or exposure to smoke
  • Skipping meals
  • Alcohol
  • Menstrual cycle fluctuations, birth control pills, hormone fluctuations during the menopause transition
  • Tension headaches
  • Foods containing tyamine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and some beans), monosodium glutamate (MSG) or nitrates (like bacon, hot dogs, and salami)
  • Other foods such as chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, banana, citrus, onions, dairy products, and fermented or pickled foods.
  • Long exposures to light from computer screen, video screens, and TV

Blood Vessels Involved

Photo Courtesy of Google Adam
Photo Courtesy of Google Adam

Typical Migraine Symptoms

These are some of the typical symptoms as listed by Mayo Clinic:

  • Moderate to severe pain, which may be confined to one side of the head or may affect both sides
  • Head pain with a pulsating or throbbing quality
  • Pain that worsens with physical activity
  • Pain that interferes with your regular activities
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Some symptoms may linger after the headache, such as a mentally dull feeling like your thinking isn't clear, an increased need for sleep or neck pain. Keep a diary of the headaches and you might find some things that trigger your headaches, which may help to eliminate them from your life.

Types of Migraines

Photo Courtesy of Google Adam
Photo Courtesy of Google Adam

Migraine Treatments

There are a number of medications that are now available for migraine treatment, and sometimes you have to try a couple before you find the right one for yourself. Some people do use over the counter drugs like Tylenol, Ibuprofen and anti-nausea medications, but I never found them to be helpful.

Some of the many migraine medications the doctor can prescribe, include some drugs in the Triptan family such as Axert, Frova, Maxalt, Imitrex and Zomig. There is also Ergots such as Cafergot, which has caffeine. Caffeine can sometimes stop a migraine if you can get a cup of coffee in you before the migraine gets a good start. I worked with a girl that used that method very effectively. Also there is Isometheptene (Midrin). Of course, your physician will discuss these options with you. I finally found Maxalt to the most effective for me.

There is also a natural migraine treatment that you may find on the internet. One I have heard about is feverfew, but there are some possible side effects and allergic reactions. I would always discuss anything I was going to take with my doctor. This hub is for information purposes only and not to recommend any particular treatment.

Migraine Headache Health Byte

New Study of People with Migraines with Auras

There are some new statistics that link migraines, particularly those with auras, to increased death from cardiovascular disease and hemorrhagic stroke, according to the findings of 2 large studies. The researchers do emphasize that the overall risk is still low. The results of the first study were published on August 25th in the Boston Medical Journal.

In the first study completed in Iceland, they assessed the impact migraine episodes in 18,725 men and women born between 1907 and 1935. The study cohort was part of the Reykjavik Study, which was started in 1967, by the Icelandic Heart Association to prospectively study cardiovascular disease in Iceland. Participants were followed for 40 years, until the end of 2007. Overall there were 10,358 deaths, 4,323 from cardiovascular disease and 6,035 from other causes.

After adjusting for baseline risk factors, age, and sex, the study found that people who had migraines with aura were at increased risk for all-causes of mortality, plus mortality from cardiovascular disease including strokes, compared with people with no headache. No increased risk was found for people with migraines without auras or people with regular headaches. The study also showed that women with migraines who had auras were at increased risk for mortality from non-cardiovascular disease

Second Study -Harvard

In the second study, done at Harvard Medical School, the group used data from the Woman’s Health Study to examine associations between migraines and migraines with auras and the risk for hemorrhagic stroke. The study included 27.860 woman 45 years or older who were free from stroke or other major diseases at that time. The women filled out questionnaires that asked specific questions about migraines and migraines with auras.

Overall, 5130 women (18%) reported having a history of migraine. Of this number, 3612 reported having a migraine in the previous year and were classified as having active migraine, and 40% of the women with active migraine reported having migraine with aura. During an average of 13.6 years of follow-up (377,711 patient years), 100 confirmed hemorrhagic strokes occurred. This study, which was only for women unlike the first study, showed a higher risk for hemorrhagic strokes.

What it all boils down to is the relative risk measure indicated about a 2-fold increased risk for an individual woman with migraine headache, with aura, which is actually very low. They can’t really tell a woman who has migraines with aura if she is any more likely to have a stroke or not at this time.

Summary

Really the bottom line is, if you are one of those women with migraines that have auras, be a little more conservative in treating risk factors, such as smoking, keep your blood pressure at a normal level, exercise, keep your weight at a normal level, and try to avoid stress. The best thing to do when you feel a migraine starting is take you medicine and lie down in a dark quiet room and hopefully it will pass quickly.

The copyright to this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

© 2010 Pamela Oglesby

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Comments 39 comments

DiamondRN profile image

DiamondRN 6 years ago from Charlotte, NC USA

I don't get migraines, Pam. I guess because I'm not a worrier. My wife worries enough for both of us and she gets some horrible migraines.


Tom Whitworth profile image

Tom Whitworth 6 years ago from Moundsville, WV

Pamela,

Thank you for this valuable information. My daughter Jennifer had an episode with an aura with slight headache following. She went to a neurologist, and he found nothing wrong. He thought it was an isolated allergic reaction, but we were relieved!!!!!!!

Good Hub!!!!!!!!!


Roberta99 profile image

Roberta99 6 years ago

Very informative hub. Fortunately I do not get migraines,,but had a friend who always ended up in the hospital. She had a terrible time. Very in depth article.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Diamond, I hope your wife improves. I have no idea why mine became infrequent and less intense but maybe getting older is the answer. Thanks for your comments.

Tom, Maybe you daughter had an allergic response to something. Of course, if that were the case it would be nice to know what. Hope she never has another migraine. Thanks for your comment.

Roberta, Your friend certainly had a serious case. I appreciate your compliments.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

My mother suffered terrible with this. She was vormitting for three days, completely oversensitive to noise and smell. She had for years. Anybody who suffers with that has my full sympathy.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

This is so scary - but you have shared some very vital information. We need to be informed.

And yes, I think sometimes getting older helps - our hormones work for us. While I don't have migraines I do get the occasional headache - but with less responsibility in my life the headaches are rare.

I'll share this and rated up of course.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago

I don't normally get migraines--thank God but i find the information very useful. You've provided some solid scientific findings--very informative for those suffering from migraines. Thanks.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Hello, I am so sorry to hear about your mother. Thanks for your comments.

BK, Thank you so much for your comments.

Anginwu, Thanks for your comments.


Wendy Krick profile image

Wendy Krick 6 years ago from Maryland

I don't get migraines and I never heard about the aura after a migraines. Thanks for educating me. This is great information.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Wendy, I am glad you enjoyed the hub and thank your for your comments.


Wife Who Saves 6 years ago

I learned some new information from your hub. I never heard of tyamine and plan to do read more about it. Thanks for sharing this.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Thanks Pamela. I often wonder if I will get a stroke. I have suffered this type of headache since I was 20. I don't get them as often, but I still get them. Valuable information.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Sandy, The percentage of women getting strokes was fairly small but just a bit higher then those who didn't get an aura with the headache. Thanks for your comments and stay well!


jasper420 6 years ago

very scary and usefull info i suffer from migraines about two to three times a week i learned vauble info from this hub thanks


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Jasper, I am sorry to hear you have them so often. I hope you take good care of yourself and I appreciate your sharing this problem.


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

Wonderful information. I used to get migraines with the aura warning. I would see the dots of light appear and start to swim before my eyes and then - pow-there was the headache. Luckily I can control mine, for the most part with medication. They can be truly debilitating. Thanks for the tips and information.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

KK Gals, It's to be able to control them now. There are a lot better meds out there now. Thanks for sharing your comments.


Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna Marie Bowman 6 years ago from Florida

I not only get cluster headaches, but also migraines, with distorted body perceptions. I can always tell when I am going to get a migraine, because I either feel really tiny, or part of me feels overly large. No auras, though.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Anna Marie, I am sorry to hear you get both. I have always heard people say that cluster headaches are extremely painful. Good luck with finding some relief and I appreciate your sharing your situation.


LeanMan profile image

LeanMan 6 years ago from At the Gemba

I always have blind spots before I get a migraine, just as you described. Mine are always when I have been at the computer too long or when I am over tired. I will watch for other problems!!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Leanman, That is exactly how people describe the headaches. I guess you need to take a break more freqently to see if it helps. Thanks for your comments.


Ayush 5 years ago

Is it fatal?


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

Ayush, A hemorrhagic stroke can be fatal. It is certainly an medical emergency and you would call 911 for anyone with stroke symptoms.


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 5 years ago from West Virginia

I had migraines up until I was about in my 30's I also had the shimmering just before my migraine pain hit and also the tunnel vision. I had about 10 minutes to get some pain killers into me or I was definatley going to feel pain.

I do remember when my first daughter was a young baby that I laid in a very dark room for 3 days and someone had to take care of my baby girl. I could not move or it made it worse and the nausea--ugh! I am so glad that I don't have them anymore!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

Lady Guinevere, Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm glad you're free of them now.


EILEEN VICENTE 5 years ago

I wouldn't call this an enjoyable article, since I suffer and I do mean suffer from visual migraines. I hate them with a passion! In addition, strokes run in my family, so the fact that I have them scares me to no end! If I have a severe stroke shoot me please! I do think that this article is very informative, and I appreciate the fact that it was available. However, I would never label it enjoyable!!!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

Eileen, I'm sorry to hear that you suffer with the horrible migraines. The article wasn't meant to be enjoyable but informative. Thank you for sharing your experience and for your comments. I wish you the best.


nivek1 5 years ago

An interesting article and certainly a good read with plenty of useful information


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States Author

nivek1, Thank you so much for your comments.


ABWright profile image

ABWright 3 years ago

At 38 years old, 15 months ago, I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. I have also suffered migraines since my teens, and often the aura is all I get. In the months leading up to the stroke, I was getting these aura migraines frequently, sometimes more than once a week. I was also on birth control and had been for several years. The day of my stroke I had a migraine & aura from early in the morning. The headache was like none I'd ever had before and within 24hrs, I had suffered a stroke and massive brain hemmhorhage. I have had a tremendous recovery, with few physical challenges left and no cognitive impairment. It is frustrating, though, because I have told doctors for years about these aura migraines and was always told they are 'normal'. I don't think it's a coincidence that I have not had one since this happened! I am hoping to share my story and have it help doctors and /or other young women who may be at risk.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States Author

ABWright, I think your story should be shared as it sure may help others prevent a stroke. I wonder if an MRI with contrast would have shown a weakness or abnormality in one of your blood vessels. Surgery would have been the only option though and sometimes surgery is not possible depending on where the defect it located. I think you are so fortunate that you are recovering so well. It sure sounds like the auras were a clear sign in your case. I hope you recover fully. I appreciate you telling us about your experience.


ABWright profile image

ABWright 3 years ago

Thanks Pamela. I have been talking to anyone who will listen about this, as I find most people know someone who gets aura migraines and should know the associated risks. I am going back to work in a few weeks and will be monitoring very closely whether or not the stress brings them on again! I do a lot of public speaking, and have been told its one of my strongest traits, and as such am seeking a research study or related conference where I might be able to add some value as a presenter. A friend in the medical field tells me that conferences featuring a patient speaker are usually the most enjoyable/informative. I hope to use my experience for some good.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States Author

ABWright, Good luck with your plans. It would be great if you could do some public speaking on this topic as generallly speaking most people do not know the risks of this medical condition. Thanks for sharing your comments.


kamerongroup 3 years ago

Excellent Hub Pamela. I suffer from migranes occasionally during drastic changes in the atmospheric or barometric pressures. I noticed they would occur during the seasonal transitions or from dry to humid environments. They have lessen to a degree especially with severity of pain. But they do begin with an aura of which can differentiate from either cluster or migrane. And on occasion I would notice a mild disorientation or paralysis as the pain subsides. And I was suspicious of temporary vaso-occulsion, which is not something to be taken lightly. Thanx!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States Author

kamerongroup, I had some similar symptoms, but my migraines have slowing stopped. I wish you the same experience. Vaso-occulsion is serious, but it may be vasospams. That would be more likely and not so serious. I wish you well and thanks for your comments.


Penny G profile image

Penny G 2 years ago from Southern Iowa

My Father had migraines, I have migraines, and three of my children have migraines. Imitrex is my miracle drug, I have taken it since 1998. We all have aura and have a numb and, numb mouth, it effects our speech, and thinking. For three days after we have what we call a migraine hang over. Mine started when I was 9. My children were around 11 or12. It wasn't until recently I really started reading about them and found the could be dangerous and strokes are possible. I often thought they surely effect the vascular system beyond the migraine it self. Many times ours start after a stressful event has passed then, WHAM it hits us. I have a migraine bag for when it hits. My husband carries an imitrex in his key chain pill holder and I just say Migraine and he gets it. We have tupperware midgets with 2 ounces of water handy always. I must take it immediately to intercept it. If I am lucky, it will be 20 minutes and the aura starts to slowly go away.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Penny, I am sorry to heear you and so many family members auffer from tgese headaches. I used to have them, but as I got older they have become extremely rare. I hope the same holds true for you. Thank you for sharing your experience and your comments.


Penny G profile image

Penny G 2 years ago from Southern Iowa

I am 56 and the come in spurts now. Ill have bad months, then a break and then it starts again. I am thankful Imitrex has worked so well of rme.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States Author

Penny,I used Imitrex also with good results when I had those headaches. I appreciate your comments.

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