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Does Having a History of Migraines Increase the Risk of Stroke?

Having a history of migraines is not only painful, but it can be dangerous. Recent studies show that those that struggle with chronic migraines may be at a higher risk for having a stroke.

Migraine headaches and strokes have always been viewed by the medical profession as being two separate medical conditions. Until now, no direct association between the two had been established. Migraine headaches, specifically a history of migraine with auras, are now thought of as being a risk factor for the development of stroke along with diabetes, hypertension, and cigarette smoking.

The research which was spearheaded by Dr Tobias Kurth, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, followed the results of over 27,000 women who participated in the Women’s Health Study. These women had no documented history of heart disease. At the start of the study, approximately one-fifth of these women had reported a history of migraine headaches. Of these, one-third had a history of migraine with aura.

The study participants were followed over a fifteen-year period. Based on the data, the authors concluded that a history of migraines with aura doubled the chance of developing a stroke compared with those that did not have a history of migraine. Having this history confers a similar stroke risk to that of hypertension, and diabetes, which is approximately four out of every thousand individuals with a history of a migraine with aura. While this study’s focus was on women, it is likely that these results can be extrapolated to men as well.

What is the take home message from this study? Migraines, especially migraine with auras have a much greater significance than just “having a bad headache.” It means utilizing a holistic approach with the goal of stopping any further migraines and thereby decreasing your risk of stroke. Note that there is a significant overlap between the holistic approach to migraines and that of diabetes and hypertension. Consider including any or all of the following to your treatment regimen:

  • Magnesium: Not only can magnesium supplementation decrease the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches, it can also lower blood pressure and improve the health of the blood vessels. Magnesium can also decrease insulin resistance, which is the hallmark of Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone): This can help in the treatment not only in the treatment of migraines, but also high blood pressure and diabetes. Those with diabetes can have low ubiquinone levels.
  • Alpha lipoic acid (ALA): Some research has demonstrated the efficacy of ALA in migraine prophylaxis. It has been well studied in diabetes not only in the treatment of the neuropathy associated with diabetes, but also in decreasing insulin resistance. It also has a blood pressure lowering effect.
  • Omega 3 fish oil: There are studies that treatment with Omega 3 fatty acids can decrease the recurrence of migraines in adolescents. It can also help in the treatment of oxidative stress associated with high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Gingkolide B: Several studies have shown the efficacy of Gingkolide B, an herbal extract derived from Ginkgo biloba not only for migraine prophylaxis but also for the acute attack of migraines. In fact, the combination of Gingkolide B, Coenzyme Q 10 and Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) was shown to not only decrease the frequency of migraines with aura but also their duration.
  • Yoga: Not only has this activity been shown to decrease the intensity and frequency of migraine headaches, it has positive effects on blood pressure and can help in the treatment of diabetes as well.

By: Dr. Rich Snyder, DO


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