One of the scariest risk factors with migraine is the increasing chance of a stroke.
This was one of my moms biggest worries with her migraines but thankfully she doesn’t have to worry about them any more.
In this article, we will discuss what a migrainous infarction/stroke is and the features that define it as well as what risks increase its chance and what we need to understand to lower danger.
Define a migrainous infarction / stroke
An infarction or stroke is when a part of the brain stops receiving adequate blood flow and essentially starves for oxygen, causing tissue damage and death.
A migrainous infarction or stroke is simply one that occurs during a migraine with aura or presenting with symptoms of a migraine with aura.
The international headache society defines a migrainous stroke or infarction as:
- Occurring in a patient that has migraine with aura and has an attack typical of others but with aura symptoms longer than 60 minutes
- Neuroimaging showing lack of blood flow in the relevant areas
- No better diagnosis
Migrainous infarctions can present with only small changes and this is what makes it problematic since migraines have such a large range of symptom variation.
A hemiplegic migraine is almost the same as a stroke in how its symptoms present and a migraine with aura only has to last longer than usual to become suspect.
The important understanding here is that a neuroimaging test like CT or MRI is needed to tell if the brain has a block of blood flow.
If you are experiencing migraine symptoms different than usual or an aura lasting longer than usual it is important to see your doctor immediately to prevent further damage.
See this infographic to understand more about strokes:
Features of a migrainous stroke/ infarction
Like we talked about above, a migrainous infarction can present in a few different ways.
It can range from almost the same as a regular migraine with aura, to all the way down the spectrum of a serious hemiplegic migraine with one sided paralysis.
The side of the brain that is affected will usually show the opposite side symptoms.
So if the left half of the brain is affected, right sided symptoms may show throughout your body and vice versa.
Its important that we do rehabilitation for the affected side:
-- We should do more creative artistic and visual exercises to create more connections on the right side
-- We should do more logical, analytical exercises to foster connections on the left side
For a migrainous stroke, we have to get both the symptoms of a migraine with aura as well as the symptoms of a stroke, together.
Features of a migraine aura include:
- Becoming pale
- Blurred vision
- Flashes of light
- Fatigue or increased energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Neck stiffness
- Increased sensitivity to lights and sounds
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tingling sensation
- Phantom smells, sounds and visions
Features of a stroke include:
- Symptoms generally appear quickly
- Numbness weakness of the face, arm or leg especially one sided
- Trouble speaking, seeing or walking
- Dizziness or loss of balance and coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
This can happen a few different ways, sometimes the aura will begin and then stroke like symptoms will start very suddenly or they may come together or even start with stroke like symptoms and then have the aura symptoms come on.
It is important to note that a suddenness and change from any normal presentation of your migraine with aura is cause for concern and should be investigated.
By the time we have a stroke, we need emergency help. But long before we do, we can take steps that cut our risks into a fraction of what they were.
Some of the best things we can do for our fears is focus on prevention
“For both men and women, as many as 9 out of 10 strokes are preventable by minimizing risk factors, according to a July 2016 study of 26,000 people by McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.” (Link)
Stroke is highly dependent on risk factors.
If we can avoid our risk factors and the causes, we will not only ease our fears and prevent unneeded stroke but we will also be much healthier, happier and live more fulfilled lives.
And we may even be able to prevent our migraines.
There are a few major factors that increase our risk.
Oral contraceptive use
-- Instead read the book “The Pill: Are You Sure It’s for You?” by Alexandra Pope and Jane Bennett
-- Switch to vaporizing and using organic non processed products along with a protocol for overcoming addiction
-- Just 20-30 minutes of exercise a day 3+ times a week can improve all of your health markers and give you a lean body that will feel and function much better. It has also been shown to reduce migraines and lower central sensitization which happens in chronic pain conditions.
Having high blood pressure
-- High BP means you are dehydrated and eating the wrong foods for your type. These will cause many issues with your heart and blood and something as simple as adding coconut water to your daily diet has been shown to decrease hypertension.
-- Diabetes is a killer and means we are eating foods that are activating our immune system leading to the destruction of our blood sugar regulating system as well as eating a bad balance of proteins/fats/carbohydrates in each of our meals. Consider asking us about how we use metabolic typing to find the ideal ratios for our clients and balance blood sugar naturally. If blood sugar is out of balance, so is our brain, hormones and gut. Consider including more fiber rich vegetables and pastured/wild meats to your diet.
High cholesterol and cholesterol medications
-- There was a large myth perpetuated by the medical community for years that dietary cholesterol meant blood cholesterol but this has since been debunked(Link). Actually, it is important for us to eat dietary cholesterol as cholesterol is what makes up our cells, tissues, hormones and brains. Statins which are common cholesterol medications may provide extra risk factors since they deplete CoQ10 in the body which may actually be one of the most essential and protective nutrients for the heart.
-- The prevailing theory with migraines for the past few decades is that a constriction and expansion of blood vessels lead to the nerve pain that created migraines. Because of this, medications that constricted blood vessels were used but this does come with the side effect of an increased risk of stroke for medications like triptans if you are predisposed.
According to Drs. Richard Lipton and Stuart Tepper, two leading physicians in the world of migraine research, “triptans should not be used by people with cardiovascular disease or hypertension. Triptans can cause stroke or arrhythmia in predisposed individuals. Women over 55 and men over 40 should take with caution.”(Link)
See this short video on factors you can use to reduce risk.
Now we need to understand what is going on with strokes, migraines and our brains.
It is very common for the migraine brain to experience energy generation problems and connected problems with oxidation and inflammation.
In fact, oxidation is the one common factor that connects every migraine trigger.
Inside each of our cells we have mitochondria.
These are the energy generation stations of our cells and especially our brain cells like neurons.
When our mitochondria are happy and healthy, they can create loads of energy and minimize oxidation and inflammation.
But when they become ill because of things like nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, stress, infections etc…
They cause the collapse of the cell and can lead to our brains going through fatigue.
This may also be one of the reasons responsible for cortical spreading depression which has been implicated in many different types of migraines and especially migraines with aura.
Cortical spreading depression is a process where the brain goes through a wave of energy surge followed by a blackout.
The neurons in the brain become excitable and fragile, then when an event happens that causes more stress on the system than usual, the neurons fire but this creates a wave throughout the brain causing other neurons to fire involuntarily.
Because the neurons are fragile from previous days, months and years of not having proper energy generation or other factors, this spike in their activity is followed by severe fatigue, triggering the blackout.
The idea is that when this “blackout” happens in the occiput which handles visual information, we can experience the migraine aura.
Mitochondria are highly implicated here because they provide the energy that the cell needs to survive and thrive, creating impulses to transfer thoughts to other cells throughout the brain.
We need to support the mitochondria, give them the building blocks they need for fuel and get out of their way so they can do their job of supporting us.
It is important to remember that mitochondria were once seperate organisms from our cells and through evolution we absorbed them and developed a symbiotic relationship with them.
They are essentially bacteria that live within our cells and so things like antibiotics can damage them but things like supporting our microbiome can help them. They even have their own DNA.
Watch this video by Dr Terry Wahls where she talks about how she overcame her progressive neurodegenerative disease with good nutrition and mitochondrial support.
What are some of the best ways to support your mitochondria?
This is a tough one especially for migraine sufferers and for good reason. Often those with migraine cannot miss meals because it will trigger a migraine but this is actually showing us the problem. The body is having a hard time creating energy and dealing with blood sugar balancing. This should be handled first and foremost with a skilled nutritionist. Missing a meal should not be triggering a migraine.
Exercise has been shown to be amazing for both migraines and mitochondria. Just make sure to work up to it and read our article on how exercise can trigger and help migraines here.
Cryotherapy has become increasingly popular for executives, athletes and other top performers. But it doesn’t have to be something expensive or out of your way. Simple daily cold showers are a great way to build resilience. As an added bonus they also improve the vagus nerve which has been implicated in migraine and one of the reasons that the gammacore migraine device works.
Turmeric is an amazing root used for thousands of years by indigenous cultures. They knew something we are just starting to learn. Turmeric is amazing for so many different things and mitochondrial function is one of them. See our article on turmeric curcumin for migraines here.
When we can begin at the cellular level we can support everything those cells create.
Healthy brain cells mean a healthy, functional brain.
We need to know what is going on, get a proper assessment and reduce our risk factors. Then we can begin the healing work with things like mitochondrial support.
Click here to read our article and learn the 7 essential skills for how to stop a migraine aura.
Have you ever experienced a migraine with aura that came with a seizure or seizure like episode? Comment below and let me know.
Do you know someone else who has? Share this article with them.
Holistic Health Practitioner
Mark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.