We need to be aware of the increased health risks of migraine stroke and heart attacks, as if the pain of migraine is not enough to deal with on its own!
This evidence is based on a long term study called The Physicians Health Study that started in 1982 at Harvard and has continued on.
Some studies are small, but this one has over twenty-two thousand doctors that have been followed for more thirty years (at present date).
Different studies start and stop, but they continue to monitor health. Many were/are migraine sufferers.
The results showed that these men were more likely to have a stroke and not a heart attack.
Well that’s some good news! Kind of.
This study was not conclusive but it did suggest the connection between vascular problems and migraines. It seems since then, that many studies have been done to assess the increased risks of migraine associated with increased stroke risk.
Individuals with a "history of migraine with aura have a slightly increased risk of stroke.” Current research evidence is also finding that “migraine with aura may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease latter in life, too.”¹ The links with migraine stoke and aura is still unclear, as are the many mysteries that remain around migraines.
Studies have also shown that people with migraines may also experience other health problems like: “high blood pressure, diabetes, or other things that increase the chance of heaving heart disease or stroke as well.”¹ So, the bad news is that there are many other health problems to consider as well as increased migraine stroke risk.
Perhaps knowing this will help you take better care of your health and yourself overall.
The increased risk of migraine stroke has been in my awareness for years, yet I still feel unprepared.
The signs and symptom of stroke can resemble migraine. So differentiating between the two may be very difficult for the millions of us who get regular migraine attacks.
Loss of movement on one side of your arm or face, is the most well-known symptom. One sided weakness or numbness is also common.
The telltale sign is that these all happen suddenly.
Here are some other common symptoms of a stroke:
• One sided tingling or impaired leg movement.
• Confusion around speaking and understanding words.
• Difficulty with balance and walking.
• Any severe head pain that feels different in some way to your previous migraines.
Having said that, they do not all have to be sudden, they can occur more slowly. For more details, please read the article on migraine stroke symptoms.
1. Do not smoke. This is a no brainer! This will definitely increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. If you are addicted to nicotine and all the other nasties in cigarettes, go get help now. The technique called NLP – Neurolinguistic Programming is reported to be most the effective therapy to help you stopping smoking.
2. Exercise regularly. Not only does this stir up your good endorphins, and help you feel better, it lubricates synovial fluid in the joints and oils the whole body skeleton and muscles, so to speak. Regular exercise keeps your cardiovascular system running smoothly.
3. Follow a heart healthy diet. Eat smart! Choose the foods you know are good for you. Eat regularly, have a routine so your body knows you will feed it. This will help manage your weight and control your blood sugar levels.
Small snacks made up of protein are the best snacks. So have some almonds with your apple or a piece of cheese if that is not a migraine trigger for you. I always have a protein smoothie with rice milk.
Stay away from foods high in table salt. That’s a no no! Sea salt is a much better choice. For more information please read our migraine headaches nutrition article.
4. See your doctor regularly. They can keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This is important.
5. Take a low dose aspirin or baby aspirin. Your doctor may feel you are a candidate for daily low-dose aspirin. If you already have a history or heart disease or stroke, aspirin might help.
It does have side effects though like stomach ulcers, so do your research, you don’t need to add problems to the mix.
6. Drink lots of water. Sip on 8 glasses a day of natural spring water. It will just help your body in more ways than we can count!
7. Limit alcohol consumption. Another no brainer. You may already stray away from alcohol as a migraineur, but I had to add this one.
8. Learn stress management techniques to help reduce migraine stroke risk. Please read our whole meditation for migraines section for ideas.
Andrew Levy, author of A Brain Wider Than The Sky: A Migraine Diary, says that researchers all over the world argue over the stroke risk associated with migraines. “If you are a woman and you are under forty-five (and maybe, too, if you are over forty-five), your stroke risk almost doubles.”
The statistics are small but significant: 15/1000 (1.5%) of women without migraine experience strokes and 30/1000 (3%) of women with migraines will experience a stroke. Scary to me as all of these statistics apply to me. I am a woman, over 45, migraine sufferer for over 20 years.
He refers to the actress Sharon Stone, who “mistook a brain aneurysm for one of her frequent migraines, and now warns migraineurs to pay close attention to any headache that doesn’t feel like the usual banging.”
The point here is that if anything seems out the ordinary for you, be aware. Make sure you tell your close family members to watch for the signs of stroke, and tell them about increased risks for you with having migraines.
This is a fascinating book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD.
It is not about migraine stroke specifically, but it is about stroke and it's an insightful journey of a brain scientist recounting her debilitating stroke to full recovery.
The story becomes an inspiring exploration of human consciousness and its possibilities. Only 37 years old, the Harvard trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke when a blood vessel exploded in the left side of her brain.
As a professional Neuro-Anatomist, Jill was able to observe the deterioration of her mind to where she became unable to talk or walk, or recall much of anything, all in four short hours.
She may have died, but a coworker called and recognized her symptoms as the signs of a stroke.
Her mother, a teacher, was instrumental in her eight year recovery. A wonderful reminder of unconditional love and support. Certainly a journey into the unknown. Ms. Taylor said this life changing event taught her the lesson "that the feeling of nirvana is never more than a mere thought away." Ah there it is again - the power of our thoughts.
I couldn't help myself, here is a summary and reminder.
Doing yoga, learning to meditate, or doing anything you love that takes you away from stress is a good form of stress management.
So you don't have to meditate like Buddha if you don't want to.
Stay in touch, come back and visit soon,
Migraine Stroke Sources:
1. Rizzoli, P. MD, Loder E., MD and Neporent L. (2011) The Migraine Solution: A complete Guide to Diagnosis, Treatment, and Pain Management. St. Martins Press: New York. pp. 111-113.
2. Levy, A. (2009) A Brain Wider Than The Sky: A Migraine Diary. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY. p. 188.
3. Migraine and Stroke Studies 2010
4. Migraine and Stroke Study 2013
Reduce Migraine Stroke Risks Right Now