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Migraine victims twice as likely to suffer stroke

People who suffer migraines are twice as likely to suffer a stroke caused by a blood clot, new research shows.

The analysis confirms a connection between migraines and ischemic strokes -- the most common form which occurs when a clot disrupts blood flow to the brain.

In 21 studies, migraine sufferers were about twice as likely to suffer an ischemic stroke as people without migraines, according to findings published in the American Journal of Medicine.

Experts are not sure why the relationship exists, and it is not yet known whether the migraines themselves directly lead to strokes in some people.

It's likely, however, that a common underlying process contributes to both migraines and stroke risk, said senior researcher Dr Saman Nazarian.

He said the bottom line for migraine sufferers is that they should be particularly vigilant about controlling any modifiable risk factors for stroke that they may have.

Some of those risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.

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

Experts also generally say that people with migraines should remember that while the headaches are linked to a relatively increased risk of stroke, the absolute risk to any one person remains fairly low.


The precise cause of migraines is not fully understood, but the pain involves constriction, and then swelling, of brain blood vessels. One theory is that people with migraines may have dysfunction in the blood vessels throughout the body, which may explain the increased risk of stroke and, as some previous studies have found, heart attack. No one yet knows whether treating and preventing migraine attacks can do anything to affect people's risk of cardiovascular problems.

Drugs that prevent migraine attacks could theoretically lower the risk of cardiovascular problems.

On the other hand, certain medications might have negative effects -- some anti-inflammatory painkillers have been linked to cardiovascular risks, while migraine drugs known as "ergots" tend to constrict blood vessels throughout the body.