Migraine and Ischemic Stroke in Women. A Narrative Review

Headache. 2020 May;60(5):843-863. doi: 10.1111/head.13796. Epub 2020 Apr 4.


Objective/background: Migraine is associated with ischemic stroke. Women are 3-fold as likely as men to have migraine, and high estrogen states increase the risk of migraine with aura (MWA), venous thromboembolism (VTE), and of stroke. We review the epidemiological and mechanistic evidence of the migraine-stroke relationship and its risk factors, with a focus on women and conditions that exclusively or predominantly affect them. METHODS: We performed a search of MEDLINE/PubMed database, then a narrative review of the epidemiological evidence of the migraine-stroke relationship as well as the evidence for arterial, thrombophilic, and cardiac mechanisms to explain this connection. We examine the implications of this evidence for the diagnostic evaluation and treatment of MWA.

Results: MWA is associated with multiple stroke risk factors, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, atrial fibrillation, and patent foramen ovale. In women, MWA is also associated with biomarkers of endothelial activation, hormonal contraceptive use, pregnancy, and VTE. This suggests that a subset of auras may be secondary, that is, induced by ischemia related to microemboli or in situ thrombosis. MWA-associated ischemic stroke is more common in young (<45 years old) women with high frequency of migraine attacks, hormonal contraception use, and with pregnancy and preeclampsia. There is increasing evidence that cardioembolism, often in conjunction with thrombophilia, plays a prominent role in MWA-associated cerebral infarction.

Conclusion: The commonality of factors associated with MWA and with MWA-associated stroke suggest that persons with secondary, ischemia-induced aura may be at elevated risk of stroke. Although further research is needed, we recommend consideration of a diagnostic evaluation of MWA that mirrors the evaluation of transient ischemic attack, given that prophylactic treatment targeting the ischemic origin of secondary aura may prevent migraine as well as stroke.

Keywords: endothelial dysfunction; ischemic stroke; migraine with aura; patent foramen ovale; reproductive hormones; women.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Stroke / epidemiology*
  • Ischemic Stroke / etiology*
  • Migraine with Aura / epidemiology*
  • Migraine with Aura / etiology*
  • Women's Health*