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Friday, January 1, 1999 Published at 00:31 GMT


Migraine linked to stroke

Migraines may be a sign of more serious health problems

Women who suffer from migraines are much more likely to have a stroke than those who do not, scientists have claimed.

Researchers from Imperial College School of Medicine in London and the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford found young women with a history of migraines are three-and-a-half times more likely to have an ischaemic stroke.

An ischaemic stroke is caused by a lack of blood to the brain due to constriction or blockage in a blood vessel.

Dr Limmie Change and colleagues studied 291 women aged between 20 and 44 who had suffered strokes.

They found that the risk is increased further if they also smoke, have high blood pressure or use oral contraceptives. A woman who suffers from migraine, smokes and takes oral contraceptives is 35 times more likely to have a stroke.

The researchers, who cautioned that further research was needed, found that between 20% and 40% of strokes in women who had a history of migraines seemed to stem directly from a migraine attack.

[ image: Smoking increases the risk of a stroke]
Smoking increases the risk of a stroke
Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers say: "The data presented here suggest that women who have migraine should be advised strongly not to smoke, and that their blood pressure should be carefully monitored and controlled."

The researchers also found that a family history of migraine, regardless of personal migraine history, upped the risk of not only an ischaemic stroke but also a haemorrhagic stroke, where a burst blood vessel leads to a lack of blood to the brain.

Migraines are caused by a rapid widening and narrowing of blood vessel walls in the brain and head.

Researcher Neil Poulter, of the cardiovascular studies unit, Imperial College School of Medicine, said: "Presumably a vaso-constriction - such as that associated with a migraine - in a blood vessel that is already partially narrowed for whatever ever reason may just cause a total blockage and lead to a stroke."

Professor Poulter said there was nothing migraine sufferers could do to stop themselves suffering attacks, but they could reduce their risk of stroke.

"They have got to look at other factors in their life that they can do something about," he said.

"They should stop smoking, eat fruit and vegetables and ensure that if they have high blood pressure then it is under control."

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