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Migraine Increases Likelihood of Stroke

But risk is highest for women with aura, researchers find

MONDAY, Nov. 16, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- People who suffer migraines have more than double the risk of ischemic stroke, and the risk is especially high in women, a new study has found.

Ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, occurs when blood supply to the brain is cut off by plaque accumulation or a blood clot.

In this study, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reviewed the findings of 21 studies that included a total of 622,381 men and women, aged 18 to 70, in Europe and North America. Those with migraines were 2.3 times more likely than people without migraines to suffer ischemic stroke. The risk was 2.5 times higher for migraine sufferers who experienced aura (visual disturbances such as flashing lights, zigzag lines and blurred vision), and for women experiencing aura, 2.9 times higher.

The study was to be presented Monday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The findings reinforce the link between migraine and stroke and also correct some discrepancies in previous analyses that yielded mixed results, according to Hopkins cardiologist and senior study investigator Dr. Saman Nazarian.

Nazarian said nearly 1,800 articles have been written about the relationship between migraine and stroke, but the Hopkins review is believed to be the largest of its kind and was more selective, including only studies that used similar designs and groups of people.

"Identifying people at highest risk is crucial to preventing disabling strokes. Based on this data, physicians should consider addressing stroke risk factors in patients with a history or signs of light flashes and blurry vision associated with severe headaches," Nazarian said in a Hopkins news release.

There are a number of migraine prevention and treatment options, including smoking cessation, taking medications to lower blood pressure or taking blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin, Nazarian added. For women with migraines, additional options include discontinuing use of birth control pills or stopping hormone replacement therapy.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about migraine.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Nov. 16, 2009
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