Migraine and TIA (Stroke)

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022 | Last updated: November 2022

TIA stands for transient ischemic attack. It is sometimes called a mini-stroke or warning stroke. A stroke happens when something (like a blood clot) blocks blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.1

People who have migraines are more likely to have the type of stroke caused by a block in a blood vessel. This is also called an ischemic stroke.2

Women who have migraine with aura face up to double the normal risk of stroke. Smoking and taking birth control pills also increase the risk of stroke in people with migraines.2,3

Is it a migraine or a stroke?

The symptoms of a migraine and a TIA can be similar. This is especially true of migraine with aura. Even doctors may have a hard time diagnosing which condition someone has. Both can cause:2

  • Changes in vision
  • Head pain
  • Strange physical sensations

But there are differences. In migraine with aura, the visual changes keep moving, while with a stroke the vision problems tend to stay still. Another difference is that migraine symptoms tend to come on slowly. With stroke, the key word is “sudden,” because the symptoms appear quickly.

A stroke can cause lasting, long-term damage. So it is important to get medical help right away if you have any of these symptoms:1

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in any part of the body, especially if it happens on 1 side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or problems understanding speech
  • Sudden problems seeing in 1 or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
  • Your migraines suddenly happen more often
  • Your migraine pain suddenly becomes more severe

If these symptoms go away within minutes, it may have been TIA. A TIA can be a warning of a future stroke and should be taken seriously.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, even if they go away quickly, call 911 right away. The best treatments for stroke need to start within 3 hours of when symptoms first appeared. Any delays can lead to permanent damage to your health.1

Reducing your risk of stroke

It is alarming to hear that migraine with aura comes with a higher risk of such a serious condition, but you can take steps to reduce your risk. These steps include:2,3

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Not smoking, or stopping smoking
  • Not abusing alcohol
  • Controlling your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar
  • Avoiding certain birth control pills that contain estrogen, if possible

It is also important to follow the general recommendations to prevent and treat migraine. These include:4

  • Seeing your doctor regularly to make sure your migraine treatment plan is working for you
  • Taking a preventive drug to stop the migraines before they happen
  • Finding and controlling your migraine triggers through lifestyle changes
  • Trying cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, or meditation to manage stress

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