Migraine describes a cluster of symptoms that usually includes a severe throbbing pain on one side of the head accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness or extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Women who experienced migraines during pregnancy were 15 times as likely to also suffer a stroke, the study, published online today by British Medical Journal, found.
Stroke is rare in women who are expecting, about four cases for every 100,000 births, “so this relative increase is not as alarming as it might seem,” the researchers, led by Cheryl Bushnell, a neurologist at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, wrote in the paper. Still, doctors treating pregnant women admitted to hospitals with active migraines should help to reduce the risk of vascular ailments and treat pregnancy complications, the researchers said.
“This is very, very interesting,” said Anne MacGregor, director of clinical studies at the Migraine Clinic in London, in an interview. “We just have to be careful about how this is interpreted.”
Because the results are preliminary, women shouldn’t panic, said MacGregor, who wasn’t involved in the research.
The most probable explanation for the link is the interaction between migraines and changes in the body during pregnancy, such as increased blood volume and heart rate, which put more stress on the circulatory system, the study’s authors said. The scientists couldn’t say whether migraines cause the blood-vessel, or vascular, conditions or vice versa.
“Because these data do not allow determination of which came first, migraine or the vascular condition, prospective studies of pregnant women are needed to explore this association further,” the researchers wrote.