Hormonal Contraceptives and Migraine With Aura-Is There Still a Risk?

Headache. 2017 Feb;57(2):184-193. doi: 10.1111/head.12960. Epub 2016 Oct 24.


Unnecessary confusion still surrounds the use of combined hormonal contraceptives (CHCs) in the setting of migraine with aura (MwA). Clearing this confusion is a key issue for headache specialists, since most women with migraine have menstrual-related migraine (MRM), and some CHCs can prevent this particularly severe migraine. Their use, however, is still restricted by current guidelines due to concerns of increased stroke risk - concerns that originated over half a century ago in the era of high dose contraceptives. Yet studies consistently show that stroke risk is not increased with today's very low dose CHCs containing 20-25 µg ethinyl estradiol (EE), and continuous ultra low-dose formulations (10-15 µg EE) may even reduce aura frequency, thereby potentially decreasing stroke risk. This article clarifies the stroke risk of CHCs and examines their impact on migraine. It also examines how stroke risk is altered by the estrogen content of the CHC, by contributing factors such as smoking, age and hypertension, and by aura frequency. And finally, it puts these risks into a meaningful context with a risk/benefit assessment.

Keywords: aura; hormonal contraceptive; migraine; stroke risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Migraine with Aura / epidemiology*
  • Risk
  • Stroke / epidemiology*


  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal