Potential source of cerebral embolism in migraine with aura: a transcranial Doppler study

Neurology. 1999 May 12;52(8):1622-5. doi: 10.1212/wnl.52.8.1622.


Background: The recently found association between patent foramen ovale (PFO) and transient global amnesia (TGA) has suggested that paradoxical microembolization in the terminal vertebrobasilar territory might underlie at least some TGA cases. Migraine with visual aura is another paroxysmal disturbance in which a sudden dysfunction of cortical areas fed by the terminal branches of the basilar artery is believed to trigger the attack. Therefore we investigated the prevalence of PFO in a consecutive unselected cohort of migraine patients.

Objective: To investigate the prevalence of PFO in a consecutive unselected cohort of migraine patients to search for a possible mechanism for the reported association of migraine with stroke.

Methods and results: A total of 113 patients, consecutively referred by the Headache Outpatient Clinic for migraine with aura (MA+, mean age 34+/-12 years) were compared with 53 patients with migraine without aura (MA-, mean age 36+/-13 years) and with 25 age-matched nonmigraine subjects (mean age 31+/-10 years) selected from the hospital staff. PFO was assessed with transcranial Doppler sonography with IV injection of agitated saline, a technique that is 90% sensitive and 100% specific. The prevalence of PFO was 48% (54/113) in MA+ patients, 23% (12/53) in MA- patients, and 20% (5/25) in control subjects. The difference between MA+ and MA- patients was significant (odds ratio [OR] = 3.13, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.41 to 7.04, chi2 = 9.52,p = 0.002) as was the difference between MA+ patients and controls (OR = 3.66, 95% CI = 1.21 to 13.25, chi2 = 6.46, p = 0.01), whereas MA- patients did not differ from controls (OR = 1.17, 95% CI = 0.32 to 4.45, chi2 = 0.07). MRI was negative in 22 MA+ and 8 MA- patients.

Conclusions: Patency of the foramen ovale is associated with migraine with aura but not with migraine without aura. The increased risk of stroke found in epidemiologic studies in patients with migraine with aura may be explained by an increased propensity to paradoxical cerebral embolism.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amobarbital
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Embolism and Thrombosis / complications*
  • Intracranial Embolism and Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Language
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / complications*
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Transcranial*


  • Amobarbital