By Margarita Nahapetyan
Women who experience migraines while being pregnant are at greater risk to suffer a stroke and other vascular disorders such as blood pressure and blot clots, claims a study by scientists at three of North Carolina's academic hospitals.
Although strokes during a pregnancy occur very rarely, women with migraine headaches face a 30-fold increase in the risk for the most common kind of stroke, researchers reported online in the last issue of the British Medical Journal. They suspect that migraine puts extra stress on the body's vascular system when it is already struggling with increased blood volume and heart rate.
Researchers, led by Wake Forest University, formulated their conclusion on the hospital-discharge records of more than 18.3 million pregnant women from 2000 to 2003. A thorough analysis of these records showed that there were 33,956 future moms-to-be who had been diagnosed with migraine headaches during a pregnancy-related admission. The experts noticed a strong association of treatment for stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, one of the most common and dangerous complications of pregnancy, among these women.
It was revealed that women who experienced migraines while being pregnant, had a 15-fold increased risk of developing a stroke. And what is even more, when taking into consideration just ischemic strokes, which account for the vast majority for all people, the study found that the risk rose to 30-fold. Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot blocks a vessel in the brain. Researchers also found that pregnant women with migraines were nearly twice more likely to have a heart attack or heart disease to compare with women who did not experience migraine headaches. Other complications such as blood clots increased by three times and the possibility of having problems with blood pressure was associated with the 8-fold increase. These women were also far more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
Among other findings was that women with the ages of 35 years and older, were more likely to suffer from migraine pains during pregnancy. Women after their 40s were almost 2.5 times more likely to experience migraine headaches, compared to younger ladies under their 20s. Also, white women were more likely to endure the condition as opposed to women of any other race or ethnic group. Meanwhile, women with migraines had no increased danger of developing the conditions that have nothing in common with vascular problems, such as pneumonia or postpartum infection.
These figures sound alarming. However, the study does not indicate how many of the pregnant women in the study actually had strokes and other health conditions. Strokes are known to be rare among expectant mothers, so the number of women who had strokes in the study is also likely to be very small and the findings may not be entirely reliable, as they are based on sparse data from hospital discharge records.
Only 4 cases per 100,000 births are associated with women who have strokes during pregnancy. What this study does suggest is that physicians may want to view migraines as a marker for possible vascular problems in some pregnant women. They can then examine whether a woman has any other risk factors, and what can be done so her risk of stroke and other vascular diseased is being reduced. The experts say that more investigation is required to be carried out in this field in order to confirm the link between migraines and stroke risk and also explore what this link means.
The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.