The Journal of Headache and Pain

"European Headache Federation" and of "Lifting The Burden - The Global Campaign against Headache"

The Journal of Headache and Pain Cover Image
Open Access

Migraine and hemorrhagic stroke: data from general practice

  • Raffaele Ornello1,
  • Francesca Pistoia1,
  • Diana Degan1,
  • Antonio Carolei1 and
  • Simona Sacco1Email author
The Journal of Headache and Pain201516:8

Received: 8 December 2014

Accepted: 12 January 2015

Published: 21 January 2015


MigraineStrokeIntracerebral hemorrhage

Migraine is one of the most disabling headache disorders and the seventh most disabling disease worldwide [1]. Several epidemiological studies have investigated the association between migraine and vascular disease [2]. Two meta-analyses found a clear increase in the risk of ischemic stroke in subjects with migraine, mostly migraine with aura (MA), as compared with non-migraineurs [3, 4]. Another meta-analysis found an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke (HS) in subjects with migraine [5], although potential sources of heterogeneity can be found among the studies included in that analysis. Most studies did not distinguish between intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) and subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) when assessing the outcomes and some of them did not report the outcomes separately for MA and migraine without aura (MO). In addition, in the available studies little consideration was given to migraine activity and duration.

The case–control study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain by Gaist and colleagues [6] adds important data gathered from general practice to the link between migraine and vascular diseases. In that study, data from 1,797 subjects with ICH and 1,340 subjects with SAH from a large epidemiological dataset, The Health Improvement Network (THIN), were reviewed and frequency-matched with control subjects for sex, age (±1 year), and calendar year of diagnosis. After adjustment for sex, age, calendar year, smoking, alcohol, body mass index, hypertension, previous cerebrovascular disease, oral contraceptive use, and health services utilization, the authors did not find an increased risk of overall HS or of ICH or SAH in subjects with migraine compared with non-migraineurs. Analysis according to migraine type showed that neither MA nor MO were associated with an increased risk of HS, ICH or SAH [6]. Only subjects with a long history (≥20 years) of migraine had an increased risk of ICH compared to control subjects, and even they did not show an increased risk of SAH [6]. The results of this study conflicted somewhat with previous studies [5, 710] which indicated that the overall increase in the risk of HS associated with migraine was mostly driven by ICH rather than SAH and by MA rather than MO.

To understand the discrepancies we should consider the strengths and limitations of that study. The enrolment of a large number of patients with HS in a general practice setting confers an advantage to this new study. In addition, the authors performed separate analyses for ICH and SAH, well known clinical entities with different pathogenesis. Most importantly, this is, to our knowledge, the first case–control study that includes migraine duration in the statistical analyses suggesting a correlation between time from migraine diagnosis and risk of vascular events. This is in line with the Women’s Health Study which found evidence of the increased risk of HS in migraineurs only after the 13.6 years of follow-up [10]. Likewise, when considering the risk of cardiac ischemic disease in migraineurs, the association between migraine and coronary heart disease was evident only after not less than ten years of follow-up [1113]. This finding contrasts with the risk of ischemic stroke, which is increased even in studies with shorter follow-up [14]. These same data suggest that the vascular risk associated with migraine increases over time, with variable effects on different vascular diseases. However, the study by Gaist et al. has some limitations that suggest caution in considering their findings as conclusive. Migraine diagnosis was ascertained retrospectively and was not confirmed by headache experts, thus potentially introducing a bias. Criteria for migraine diagnosis were not standardized and not comparable to those of the International Classification of Headache Disorders [15]. Pitfalls in diagnosis might have been even greater when addressing migraine subtypes since some auras may have been missed or misdiagnosed. Besides, authors did not describe how they managed cases with incomplete records or with headaches attributable to probable migraine. Moreover, migraine duration was measured as the time from recorded diagnosis to the follow-up event date; for the same reason authors were not able to assess migraine activity at the time of the vascular event. Previous findings suggest that the correlation between MA and HS was significant only in subjects with active migraine, but not in subjects with past history of migraine [10].

The association between migraine and HS is still unanswered, because of several issues. ICH and SAH are rarer than ischemic stroke in high-income countries [16], and very large populations are needed to assess the association between HS and migraine. Electronic datasets, offering the opportunity to compute huge networks of data, could help in overcoming that problem. However, data on diagnoses are often collected for purposes other than research or medical surveillance [17] and this potentially hinders their accuracy. Therefore, the design of new epidemiological studies should include external validation of exposures and outcomes. Indeed, there is a need for further large, prospective, population-based cohort studies assessing the relationships between migraine subtypes (MA, MO), migraine status (active, inactive) and migraine duration and the risk of ICH and SAH. Well-designed studies should also help explaining the role of potential confounders of the association between migraine and HS, such as the chronic assumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which have an anti-platelet and hypertensive action and have been associated, by some studies, with stroke [18]; among the available studies, only the one performed within the Women’s Health Study [10] ran an analysis with adjustment for time varying frequency of NSAIDs intake and randomized aspirin assignment; however, that study found no change in the associations after that adjustment. Finally, it should be noted that migraine and HS have some vascular comorbidities [1921], particularly hypertension, which is one of the most important risk factors for HS [22]; however, the great majority of the studies investigating the association between migraine and HS adjusted their statistical models for hypertension. Future studies should be planned to verify the presence of any vascular vulnerability in migraine in order to explain the increased vascular risk of migraineurs and to develop new therapies acting on both migraine and the associated vascular risk.


Authors’ Affiliations

Institute of Neurology, Department of Applied Clinical Sciences and Biotechnology, University of L’Aquila, L’Aquila, Italy


  1. Steiner TJ, Stovner LJ, Birbeck GL: Migraine: the seventh disabler. Headache 2013, 53:227–229. 10.1111/head.12034View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Sacco S, Ricci S, Carolei A: Migraine and vascular diseases: a review of the evidence and potential implications for management. Cephalalgia 2012, 32:785–795. 10.1177/0333102412451361View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Schürks M, Rist PM, Bigal ME, Buring JE, Lipton RB, Kurth T: Migraine and cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2009, 339:b3914. 10.1136/bmj.b3914View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Spector JT, Kahn SR, Jones MR, Jayakumar M, Dalal D, Nazarian S: Migraine headache and ischemic stroke risk: an updated meta-analysis. Am J Med 2010, 123:612–624. 10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.12.021View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Sacco S, Ornello R, Ripa P, Pistoia F, Carolei A: Migraine and hemorrhagic stroke: a meta-analysis. Stroke 2013, 44:3032–3038. 10.1161/STROKEAHA.113.002465View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Gaist D, González-Pérez A, Ashina M, García Rodríguez LA: Migraine and risk of hemorrhagic stroke: a study based on data from general practice. J Headache Pain 2014, 15:74. 10.1186/1129-2377-15-74View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Carter KN, Anderson N, Jamrozik K, Hankey G, Anderson CS, Australasian Co-operative Research on Subarachnoid Haemorrhage Study (ACROSS) Group: Migraine and risk of subarachnoid haemorrhage: a population-based case–control study. J Clin Neurosci 2005, 12:534–537. 10.1016/j.jocn.2004.09.009View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Chang CL, Donaghy M, Poulter N: Migraine and stroke in young women: case–control study. The World Health Organisation Collaborative Study of Cardiovascular Disease and Steroid Hormone Contraception. BMJ 1999, 318:13–18. 10.1136/bmj.318.7175.13View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Kuo CY, Yen MF, Chen LS, Fann CY, Chiu YH, Chen HH, Pan SL: Increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in patients with migraine: a population-based cohort study. PLoS ONE 2013, 8:e55253. 10.1371/journal.pone.0055253View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Kurth T, Kase CS, Schürks M, Tzourio C, Buring JE: Migraine and risk of haemorrhagic stroke in women: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2010, 341:c3659. 10.1136/bmj.c3659View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Cook NR, Benseñor IM, Lotufo PA, Lee IM, Skerrett PJ, Chown MJ, Ajani UA, Manson JE, Buring JE: Migraine and coronary heart disease in women and men. Headache 2002, 42:715–727. 10.1046/j.1526-4610.2002.02173.xView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Kurth T, Gaziano JM, Cook NR, Logroscino G, Diener HC, Buring JE: Migraine and risk of cardiovascular disease in women. JAMA 2006, 296:283–291. 10.1001/jama.296.3.283View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Kurth T, Gaziano JM, Cook NR, Bubes V, Logroscino G, Diener HC, Buring JE: Migraine and risk of cardiovascular disease in men. Arch Intern Med 2007, 167:795–801. 10.1001/archinte.167.8.795View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Buring JE, Hebert P, Romero J, Kittross A, Cook N, Manson J, Peto R, Hennekens C: Migraine and subsequent risk of stroke in the Physicians’ Health Study. Arch Neurol 1995, 52:129–134. 10.1001/archneur.1995.00540260031012View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Headache Classification Subcommittee of the International Headache Society: The International Classification of Headache Disorders: 2nd edition. Cephalalgia 2004,24(Suppl 1):9–160.Google Scholar
  16. Sacco S, Stracci F, Cerone D, Ricci S, Carolei A: Epidemiology of stroke in Italy. Int J Stroke 2011, 6:219–227. 10.1111/j.1747-4949.2011.00594.xView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Sacco S, Pistoia F, Carolei A: Stroke tracked by administrative coding data: is it fair? Stroke 2013, 44:1766–1768. 10.1161/STROKEAHA.113.001742View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Park K, Bavry AA: Risk of stroke associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Vasc Health Risk Manag 2014, 10:25–32.PubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Tana C, Tafuri E, Tana M, Martelletti P, Negro A, Affaitati G, Fabrizio A, Costantini R, Mezzetti A, Giamberardino MA: New insights into the cardiovascular risk of migraine and the role of white matter hyperintensities: is gold all that glitters? J Headache Pain 2013, 14:9. 10.1186/1129-2377-14-9View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Sacco S, Olivieri L, Bastianello S, Carolei A: Comorbid neuropathologies in migraine. J Headache Pain 2006, 7:222–230. 10.1007/s10194-006-0300-8View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Sacco S, Cerone D, Carolei A: Comorbid neuropathologies in migraine: an update on cerebrovascular and cardiovascular aspects. J Headache Pain 2008, 9:237–248. 10.1007/s10194-008-0048-4View ArticlePubMed CentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Ariesen MJ, Claus SP, Rinkel GJ, Algra A: Risk factors for intracerebral hemorrhage in the general population: a systematic review. Stroke 2003, 34:2060–2065. 10.1161/01.STR.0000080678.09344.8DView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar


© Ornello et al.; licensee Springer. 2015

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.