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Migraine and cerebrovascular disease


Migraine and cerebrovascular disease are linked in different ways: migraine may be a potential cause of stroke as in migrainous infarction, headache may be a symptom of cerebrovascular disease and also a risk factor for stroke, the association of migraine and stroke may constitute specific syndromes such as CADASIL and MELAS. The new IHS 2003 criteria, though preserving their main structure, have changed the terminology regarding secondary headaches, now described as “attributed to” another disease rather than “associated with” it. The more detailed knowledge of causal links between the underlying disorder and headache, has allowed to strengthen the terminology. Many cerebrovascular disorders as cerebral haemorrhage, venous sinus thrombosis, carotid or vertebral dissections and ischaemic stroke may present with a headache or be followed by it. In subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) headache may constitute an important warning sign before the bleeding. An interesting issue is the hypothesis that migraine may be a potential risk factor for stroke. Recent studies have underlined the increased relative risk of ischemic stroke in female migraineurs. Many potential mechanisms have been hypothesized: (1) alterations of vasoreactivity due to vessel wall dysfunction, (2) release of vasoactive substances during migraine, (3) platelet hyperactivity as expression of serotoninergic dysfunction in migraineurs, (4) intriguing studies have described a high prevalence of migraine with aura in stroke patients with patent foramen ovale (PFO). Differential diagnosis between migraine and stroke remains fundamental: some types of migraine can mimic cerebrovascular disease such as familial hemiplegic migraine, and basilar migraine. Migraine and stroke may be part of syndromic complexes as in CADASIL and MELAS. In conclusion migraine is a risk factor for cerebrovascular disease, it may be the cause of stroke as in migrainous infarctions, stroke may induce headache which may be a relevant symptom of cerebrovascular disease, yet migraine remains an essentially benign condition.

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Correspondence to Vittorio Di Piero.

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Di Piero, V., Bonaffini, N. & Altieri, M. Migraine and cerebrovascular disease. J Headache Pain 5, s78–s80 (2004).

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Key words

  • Migraine
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • IHS criteria