Migraines With Aura May Mean Increased Risk of Stroke

People who experience migraine headaches with aura may face a 25 percent greater risk of stroke, according to a new study performed by the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

Double the Pain

The study, published in the journal Brain, focused on twins and their rate of migraine headaches with aura and strokes.

Migraines affect 39 million American adults and children, and 25 percent of people with migraines experience aura along with their pain.

People who experience migraines with aura report visual disturbances, like different-colored spots or bright spots; flashing or zig-zagging lights; temporary blindness; changes in vision; and difficulty speaking.

These symptoms develop 10 minutes to one hour before the onset of migraine pain.

Some people who experience migraines with aura also experience temporary numbness or tingling on one side of the body.

Previous studies have indicated a connection between strokes and migraines with aura, but this is the first study to examine the link between twins, migraines with aura and strokes.

Researchers on the project studied data collected from the Swedish Twin Registry, a database of information on over 53,000 twins born in Sweden between 1935 and 1958 or between 1959 and 1985, as well as data collected from surveys about migraines.

During their analysis, the study authors found that 8,635 twins reported experiencing migraines. Of this number, 3,553 had migraines with aura and 5,082 did not experience aura symptoms.

Out of the 8,635 twins, there were 1,297 incidents of stroke.

Twins who experienced migraines with aura had a 27 percent higher risk of having a stroke than twins who did not have migraines with aura.  

Twins who did not experience migraines with aura had no increased risk of stroke.

Other discoveries made during the study examined how genetics and family history played a role in increasing the link between migraines with aura and stroke.

More Migraine Connections

The Swedish study helps to support previous studies about migraines with aura and stroke risk, and also helps to identify additional factors that play a role in the connection.

A patient’s family history and other genetic factors are two significant contributors to a patient’s chance of developing migraines with aura.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, the genes that trigger migraines are passed on from parent to child, and a child with one parent who suffers from migraines has a 50 percent chance of developing the condition. If a child has two parents who suffer from migraines, the child’s risk of developing migraines increases to 75 percent.

Other factors in developing migraines include certain environmental, diet and health triggers, which vary among individuals.

Some individuals who suffer from migraines with aura identify having a single trigger, but migraine researchers have shown that migraines are more likely to be caused by a combination of triggers.

Common triggers include stress; bright and fluorescent lights; changes in the weather; very loud noises; certain odors; food additives like artificial sweeteners, nitrates and MSG; caffeine; and alcohol. These triggers affect the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG), a collection of nerve cells commonly involved in headache disorders, according to the American Migraine Foundation. 

“Migraine triggers irritate the SPG, and the SPG tells the brain to send a pain response,” said Dr. Michael Budler, M.D., an interventional radiologist in Grand Island, Nebraska. Budler treats patients with migraines using an SPG block, a procedure in which a small catheter is inserted into the nasal cavity to deliver anesthesia directly to the SPG.

Stopping the Pain and Risk of Stroke

After the anesthesia is delivered to the SPG, the patient will not respond to migraine triggers. The numbing effect of the procedure lasts three to four months for most individuals.

For Budler, there are more significant implications than stopping the pain of migraines; the SPG procedure may also help reduce the risk of strokes for some people who experience migraines with aura.

“Blocking the SPG from reacting to a trigger also blocks the brain from sending a pain response, reducing the frequency of migraines with aura, and potentially lowering the risk of stroke in some individuals,” Budler said.



Medical News Today. Migraine with aura may raise stroke risk. Medical News Today. 28 September 2017.