Migraine and stroke are common brain and neurological conditions, but is there a link between these two disorders?

Migraine is a chronic medical condition that affects about 12 percent of people in the United States.

Stroke is a serious health condition that can be fatal. It causes long-term disability in more than half of people over 65 who survive it.

Some migraine symptoms may feel similar to those of a stroke, possibly causing these conditions to be misdiagnosed. There’s also growing evidence that having some kinds of migraine attacks might raise your risk for stroke in some cases.

In this article, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between migraine and stroke, as well as other possible links between these conditions.

A stroke is a serious medical emergency, while migraine is a chronic medical issue that can happen several times per month.

A stroke is a cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease. In 2018, one in every six deaths due to cardiovascular disease was caused by a stroke.

A migraine episode can cause severe pain, but it doesn’t typically cause long-term effects or death.

Other differences include the timing and age of onset. People who have a stroke will typically have one in a lifetime, and the risk of having a stroke climbs higher as you get older.

When you have migraine episodes for more than 15 days per month for 3 or more months, this is considered chronic migraine. The onset of chronic migraine is usually before age 40.

There are also differences between the symptoms you’ll experience with migraine versus stroke. We’ll go into more detail about symptoms below, but here’s a quick rundown of the how the symptoms that are unique to each condition:

Common migraine symptoms
  • nausea or vomiting
  • changes in vision or hearing
  • seeing an aura or glare
  • severe head pain
Common stroke symptoms
  • numbness or tingling that’s usually concentrated on one side of the face or body
  • paralysis or weakness in the limbs or face
  • dizziness or trouble with balance
  • an abrupt, severe headache (often referred to as the “worst headache of your life”)

Stroke and migraine are two very different conditions, but they can have some overlapping symptoms. In some cases, it might be difficult to tell the difference. Common symptoms that can happen for both migraine and stroke include:

  • headache
  • sharp or sudden pain
  • vision changes or vision loss
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • face numbness or tingling
  • numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • pulsating in the head or face
  • high blood pressure
When to seek immediate help

The American Stroke Association recommends learning “FAST” to recognize the warning signs of stroke so you can get help immediately:

  • F: face drooping (or numbness)
  • A: arm weakness (or numbness)
  • S: speech difficulty
  • T: time to call 911

You can have both migraine and stroke, and having some migraine types may increase your risk for stroke.

One retrospective research study from 2018 suggested that having classical migraine (migraine with aura) may raise your risk for having an ischemic stroke (caused by blood clot).

A ministroke, or transient ischemic attack, was also thought to be more common in people with migraine.

Having chronic migraine doesn’t mean that you’ll have a stroke, but there may be an increased risk for some people.

Migraine is a chronic condition with episodes that can last for a few hours and up to a few days. It’s classified as a neurological (nerve and brain) disorder, and it usually has two main characteristics: head pain and different kinds of sensitivities.

Migraine hypersensitivities differ from person to person. You might find that triggers like certain foods, smells, or sounds cause migraine. Common migraine triggers include:

  • stress
  • muscle tension
  • intense emotions
  • hormonal changes
  • lack of sleep
  • oversleeping
  • glaring or flickering lights
  • weather changes

Experts aren’t sure exactly why some people experience migraine. Some research suggests that changes in the brain’s blood flow might lead to migraine pain.

Medical studies also show that migraine can have several causes, including blood flow, fluctuations in hormone levels, and changes in nerves in the brain.

Stroke is a blood vessel disorder in the brain. It can happen for two main reasons:

  1. A blood vessel tears or ruptures, leading to bleeding in or around the brain.
  2. A blood clot blocks an artery in or around the brain.

Both of these situations can prevent blood and oxygen from reaching brain cells or tissues. This can lead to damage in the brain.

A stroke can happen suddenly and without warning. If you’re having a stroke, you may experience symptoms like:

  • difficulty speaking
  • slurred speech
  • difficulty understanding speech
  • confusion
  • severe headache
  • vision problems
  • seeing double
  • numbness or weakness in the face and body (usually on one side)
  • facial drooping on one side
  • paralysis (usually on one side of the body)

Certain lifestyle choices, your medical history, and genetic factors can all raise your risk for stroke. These predisposing medical factors include:

The lifestyle factors include:

  • sedentary lifestyle without adequate physical exercise
  • smoking tobacco
  • drinking alcohol

You can have a stroke at any age, but the risk is higher as you get older. If you’re Black, you also have a higher risk for stroke.

Migraine and stroke both involve the blood vessels in the brain, but they have different causes, effects, and treatments. Both can cause serious symptoms, like pain, that may need urgent medical attention.

If you have migraine, your doctor will recommend pain medication and other medications that help dilate the blood vessels in your brain. Injectable muscle relaxants in the jaw and head may also help reduce migraine episodes.

Strokes can lead to permanent disability. Treatment depends on the type of stroke. You may need medications to break up clots and lower your blood pressure.

If you have long-lasting effects of stroke, like difficulty speaking or walking, you may require physiotherapy and other kinds of treatment.

Migraine is a common and treatable condition that can begin as early as childhood or the teen years. Stroke is a serious condition that can happen at any age, but its likelihood increases as you get older.

Migraine and stroke are separate conditions, but they can sometimes have common symptoms. In rare cases, having some types of migraine may raise your risk for stroke.

Tell your doctor about any migraine symptoms you have, and get urgent medical attention if you think you’re having a stroke.