What Is a Migraine Stroke?

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For many years migraines have been misunderstood, misdiagnosed and untreated; they have been thought to be little more than a bad headache instead of a serious neurological disease. It was not until the early 1990s that physicians began to understand that migraine is a disease; the typical one-sided headache is a symptom associated with the disease. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or noise and visual disturbances. The cause of this disease is under investigation; however, it is thought to be caused by changes in the nerve cells, brain chemistry or intermittent constriction of blood vessels.

The same atmosphere of misunderstanding that surrounded the term "migraine" continues to surround another term that the public uses, "migraine stroke." Migraine stroke is an antiquated term. The correct term for a migraine stroke or a migraine-induced stroke is a migrainous infarction. Migrainous infarctions are one of a myriad of complications from migraine.

Strokes In General

Strokes occur when oxygenated blood flow is disrupted to parts of the brain resulting in cellular death. Roughly three-quarters of all strokes occur as a result of ischemia. Strokes are basically, divided into two distinct types. The great majority are known as ischemic strokes. About 17 percent, fall into the second category, known as hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic and Hemorrhagic Stroke

In medical terminology, ischemia means that there is a lack of blood supply to an organ or tissue in the body. Ischemia is usually caused by a blockage. In the brain, the most common cause of a blockage is fatty plaque buildup in arteries. This buildup is atherosclerosis. Before the new nomenclature, Migrainous infarctions were thought a subset of this group.

A hemorrhagic stroke is when there is bleeding within the brain. It generally occurs, when one of the major arteries supplying the brain with blood ruptures. Although hemorrhagic stroke is less frequent than ischemic stroke, it kills as many people.

Migraine and Stroke Link

It has been known for some time that there is a connection between strokes and migraines. Not all people who experience migraines have a stroke. The risk for both migrainous infarction and stroke increases when risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are present.

It is thought that during a migraine attack there is decreased blood flow to the brain, as there is during a stroke. This diminishes the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the brain tissue.

Classical Migraine

Those with classical migraine sometimes experience an aura, which starts before the migraine and lasts less than an hour. An aura is a disturbance in the visual field, such as seeing wavy or jagged lines. Auras can be experienced as tasting or smelling things that are not there. With auras, sounds may be distorted, abdominal pain, weakness or numbness felt.

Migrainous Infarction

If a classical migraine becomes protracted the nomenclature changes. According to the International Headache Society, “If the aura lasts for longer than one hour but less than one week, the term migraine with prolonged aura is applied. If the signs persist for more than one week or a neuroimaging procedure demonstrates a stroke, a migrainous infarction has occurred.”

Other types of strokes are associated with migraine. These can occur before the onset of the migraine or during the migraine.

Disability

Whether the cause of a stroke is from a migrainous infarction, a hemorrhagic stroke or an ischemic stroke, stroke is the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States. Common disabilities associated with stroke are paralysis, speech deficits, difficulty swallowing, impaired recall, alteration in mood, and decreased mental acuity.

The devastation from ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke has been recognized by both the public and the federal government; as such, these stroke survivors have little no to no difficulty obtaining Social Security Disability. This is not the case for survivors of migrainous infarction.

It was not until the late 1990s that migrainous infarction survivors were able to have the same rights extended to them as were extended to other “stroke” survivors; this is because there was so little understood about Migraine. Many people having survived a migrainous infarction continue to struggle in an attempt to have their disability recognized by Social Security.

Considerations

A 1998 study completed by the National Migraine Association determined that more people died from migrainous infarction than were murdered by handguns. Michael John Coleman, the founder of MAGNUM noted during a June 8, 2009, phone conversation that migrainous infarctions are a particular concern for those under the age of forty five. One-quarter of all deaths from stroke in this age bracket, are the result of migrainous infarctions.

Migraines a serious health concern and should not be treated lightly. It is important if you suffer from migraines to see your physician regularly and take medication as prescribed.

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