Link between migraine and stroke

Young women who have migraines with auras are twice as likely to have a stroke, researchers have confirmed.  Auras are sensory or visual disturbances that occur before or during a migraine headache.  Based on available evidence, the risk is greater if the woman is under 45, smokes and is on the contraceptive pill, say international experts. But a migraine charity said most sufferers did not have auras and the absolute risk of a stroke was small.

Migraines affect between 10-20% of people and are four times as common in women compared to men. The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal online, say they looked at nine of the most recent studies on the links between migraine and cardiovascular problems. A previous large study in 2004 did find migraine sufferers had twice the risk of a stroke but the newer studies show that the risk is confined to people who suffer migraines with auras. The investigators from the US, France and Germany did not find any link between migraines and heart attacks or death due to cardiovascular disease but there was a 30% increase in the risk of angina (heart pain). Markus Schurks, of the Harvard Medical School and who led the research, said: “Clinicians may not agree but population studies show that up to a third of sufferers experience auras with their headaches. “And when you consider that as many as 40% of young women suffer from migraines you can see that it really makes an impact on the health of the population.”

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