Does migraine with aura increase stroke risk?

A woman with a migraine with aura, associated with stroke

I get migraines with aura and I’ve been told I am at a higher risk of stroke. Is this true and is there anything I can do about it?

Dr Mike Knapton says:

Migraine is a common cause of headache, affecting about one in five women and one in 15 men. It is typically a severe headache, often on one side of the head, which may be accompanied with nausea and/or vomiting. 

Some people will know a migraine is developing because they experience an ‘aura’ before the headache strikes. The aura is often described as seeing flashing lights, a sensation of pins and needles, and/or feeling dizzy or unsteady. 

The aura is often described as seeing flashing lights, a sensation of pins and needles, and/or feeling dizzy or unsteady

Studies suggest migraine with aura doubles the risk of the most common type of stroke, involving a clot in an artery supplying the brain. But this isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. Your overall stroke risk may be low, especially if you’re young. There is also evidence linking migraines with heart disease and stroke, but this is much less well established than links between migraine with aura and stroke.

I recommend that you ask your GP or practice nurse to discuss your overall risk of heart disease and stroke, because there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include knowing your blood pressure measurement and treating this if it is high. Statin treatment can also reduce your risk of stroke by managing your cholesterol levels. It is also important to consider taking steps to improve your health by adopting a healthy diet, not smoking, keeping to a healthy weight and taking regular physical activity.

Meet the expertMike Knapton

Dr Mike Knapton is Associate Medical Director (Prevention and Care) at the BHF, overseeing the strategic role in helping patients and the public reduce their risk of heart disease. He remains a GP and works one day a week at a practice in Cambridge.

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