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Migraine and Risk of Stroke

Because a migraine often involves a range of symptoms other than the typical throbbing head pain or pain on one side of the head, there are other possible illness that must be ruled out – including stroke – before a diagnosis is made. There is a growing body of research suggesting that migraines may increase the chance of stroke and other cardiovascular events.

Symptoms of a stroke

The symptoms of migraine, and a stroke are somewhat similar. They all can cause changes in vision, however, in migraine with aura, the visual disturbances are dynamic and keep moving. Whereas with a stroke, the vision problems tend to stay still, or remain static. Also, the migraine with aura symptoms typically come on gradually. With a stroke the keyword is “sudden,” because the symptoms feel like they appear quickly.

The symptoms a stroke can cause lasting, long-term damage and include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in any body part including the face, arms or legs, especially if it occurs on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden problems seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

(Source: The American Heart Association)

If you notice any of the above symptoms, seek immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1. These symptoms are serious and must be treated immediately to prevent permanent damage or possible death. Only a doctor can determine if you’re suffering from a migraine aura, or a stroke or some other disorder.

Migraine or Stroke?

Migraine and stroke share many symptoms, which makes it difficult sometimes to distinguish between the two. A 2009 study found that 14 percent of young people who had strokes were misdiagnosed in emergency rooms as having migraines, alcohol intoxication or other conditions.

Stroke happens if an artery becomes clogged or if it bursts. This prevents oxygen-rich blood from getting to the brain. The longer the affected area of the brain goes without fresh oxygen the more brain damage occurs. Major damage may be prevented with immediate medical attention, which is why you must call 9-1-1 if you experience any stroke symptoms. Even if you are a regular migraine sufferer, it is very important to seek immediate help because the stroke risk for migraine sufferers is higher than for those people who don’t suffer from migraines. Smoking and the use of oral contraceptives increases the stroke risk among migraine sufferers.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010