When a headache could be a warning sign of something else

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Brain Function | Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 06:00 AM

headache can be warning sign of strokeA good friend of mine has been at the mercy of her migraines for over a decade. She gets a bad one at least once a month and holes up in her bedroom for the entire day, blinds completely down and the door shut, cutting her off from her family and daily activities. It’s not fun. She’s got medication to take immediately when she feels one coming on, but sometimes it won’t prevent the full-blown onset.

If you have ever experienced a migraine, you’re familiar with the throbbing pain and anguish that come with it – and you know what I’m talking about.

Now this debilitating condition has further risks. If you are an older person who suffers from migraines, you are considered more likely to experience significant brain injuries and “silent strokes.”

RELATED READING: If you suffer from headaches, stress to blame

That’s according to the American Heart Association. In the May issue of the journal, Stroke funded by the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, a clear link was noted between recurrent, throbbing headaches and what’s called “ischemic silent brain infarctions” brought on by a blood clot that interrupts blood flow to brain tissue. Commonly referred to as “silent strokes,” these injuries often happen without any symptoms and can lead to future strokes.

High blood pressure, which happens to be another stroke risk factor, is more common among people with migraines. But migraines and silent brain infarction were found in the study’s participants who had normal blood pressure, too.

Migraines and stroke in older adults a real concern

Generally, African-Americans and Hispanics are the most likely to have a stroke, according to researchers who conducted the study. This information was collected as a collaborative investigation between the University of Miami and ColumbiaUniversity. Researchers looked at a multi-ethnic group of older adults living in New York City. About 41 percent of them were men, with an average age of 71, and an estimated 65 percent of participants were Hispanic.

By comparing the imaging results between 104 people with a history of migraine and 442 without, researchers discovered a doubling of silent brain infarctions in those with migraines. But there was absolutely no increase in the volume of white-matter hyperintensities or small blood vessel abnormalities. These abnormalities have been associated with migraines in previous studies. Meanwhile, migraines with aura, also known as changes in vision or other senses that happen before headaches, wasn’t common in participants.

Even more reason to seek treatment for migraines

I’d agree that further research is needed to confirm the American Heart Association’s findings. Still, it’s alarming and gives us yet another reason to seek treatment to reduce the severity and number of migraines.

In fact, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a migraine specialist today, especially if your headaches feel as though they’re out of control.

RELATED READING: Men, women differ when it comes to stroke risk

In the meantime, if you experience both migraines and vascular problems, you may want to make the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce your chance of stroke. Try exercising and eating a low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, for example. Controlling your diet is not only good for your overall health, but also lends itself to lowering stroke risk.

And you have more control over your risk of stroke if you keep lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking, salt intake and diet in check.

See a doctor right away if you have a family or personal history of stroke risk and migraines, as well. This new information and awareness over your health history could save your life.

Related Reading: Tyramine rich foods can trigger migraines


Popular Stories

Cart Items

Checkout