New research has discovered a link between migraines and the risk of arterial tears in the neck—a factor that can increase the danger of stroke. Tears to the arteries in the neck are known as arterial dissection, and while a relationship has been found between this condition and migraines, the probability of developing it is still considered low. While painful, migraines are generally benign and do not cause any long-term or lasting damage.
The study examined 2,500 stroke patients between the ages of 18 and 45, 13 percent of which suffered a stroke related to artery tears. This 13 percent was also more likely to have high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoke. Researchers analyzed the pattern of migraines in connection with vessel tears and stroke and found that the tears were more prevalent in patients who suffered migraines without aura.
In terms of migraines, aura is defined as sensory changes brought on by the condition, including flashes of light, vision disturbances, and tingling in the hands or face. These changes can occur either before the onset of a migraine or during its course. Patients who experienced migraines without aura were 1.7 times more likely to have arterial dissection in the neck, and as a result, an increased risk of stroke. Men aged 39 and younger were also more likely to experience the tears and subsequent strokes.
As the study was observational, there was no causality determined between migraines, artery tears, and strokes, rather a relationship between these three factors was observed. Dr. Alessandro Pezzini, the author of the study, explained: “We cannot say anything about the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship between migraine and arterial dissection.” Dr. Pezzini and his colleagues speculate that the relationship may be due to migraines and arterial tears potentially having a similar genetic basis, or being linked to an underlying abnormality that predisposes an individual to both conditions.
In approximately half of the cases, there was no trigger found for artery tears. However, the most common cause is trauma as experienced by whiplash, an incorrect chiropractic manipulation, or a sports-related injury. Dr. Patrick Lyden, who wrote an editorial to accompany the study, suggests that those who experience migraines should avoid activities that put them at risk for arterial dissection such as heavy lifting. He also recommends that in the instance of an accident involving whiplash or neck injury, migraine patients should take aspirin as it is a mild blood thinner. Finally, Dr. Lyden stresses the importance of knowing the signs of stroke and ensuring emergency services are contacted immediately if symptoms develop.
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