Stroke Risk and Migraine Sufferers
Patients having visual disturbances or taking estrogen face increased odds, researchers suggest
By Dennis Thompson
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 17, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Migraine sufferers may face an increased risk of stroke if they suffer from visual symptoms called auras or if they take the female hormone estrogen, a pair of new studies suggests.
People who have migraine headaches with auras may be 2.4 times more likely to have a stroke caused by a blood clot, compared to migraine patients who don't see auras, says one study scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the American Stroke Association's annual meeting, in Los Angeles.
And, women with more severe migraines who take hormone-replacement therapy may be 30 percent more likely to suffer a clot-based stroke than women not taking medication containing estrogen, according to a second paper to be presented at the meeting.
The two risk factors could combine to pose a dangerous mix for some women, said Dr. Elizabeth Loder, chief of the headache and pain division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"Women who have migraine with aura probably want to think more carefully about the potential risk of stroke associated with using estrogen," Loder said. "I would not go so far as to say they should never use it, but they should think more carefully about it."
Estrogen, a female hormone, is contained in birth control pills and hormone-replacement therapy.
It's important to note, however, that the new research only found associations between migraines with aura, estrogen therapy and stroke risk. It did not prove cause-and-effect.
The two studies focused on strokes caused by blood clots, which account for about 87 percent of all strokes in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association.
One study took a closer look at migraines with aura, which have been established by earlier research as a risk factor for stroke, the researchers said in background information.
About one in five migraine sufferers experiences visual symptoms before and during a headache, said study author Dr. Souvik Sen, a neurologist at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. These symptoms can include flashes of light, blind spots, or seeing zigzag or squiggly lines.