An Overview of Migrainous Infarction

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"Migrainous infarction" is a term that was originally coined by the International Headache Society to describe strokes that start during a migraine attack with aura symptoms that last for an hour or more. Considered a complication of migraine, these strokes are very rare, accounting for approximately 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent of all ischemic strokes, a type of stroke that occurs when you lose blood supply to your brain.

migrainous infarction
Verywell / Emily Roberts 

Symptoms

Not every stroke that occurs while you have a migraine can be called a migrainous infarction. According to the International Headache Society's definition, the following characteristics must be present:

Along with typical migraine symptoms, migrainous infarction symptoms generally start suddenly and may include:

  • Visual disturbances such as flashes of light, blind spots, blurry vision, or other visual changes
  • Weakness or numbness, especially on one side of the body
  • Aphasia (loss of the ability to talk)
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Balance and coordination issues that cause difficulty walking

Causes

Migrainous infarctions occur primarily in younger women who have a history of migraine with aura. It's unknown exactly what causes these strokes or why there's an increased risk of stroke in people who have migraines with aura, but there are several theories, including:

The risk of stroke is highest in premenopausal women who have a migraine with aura, smoke, and use hormonal contraceptives, though the risk is still small.

Diagnosis

If you have aura symptoms that last longer than an hour, you should see your doctor so that he or she can check for a loss of blood supply to your brain. You'll have the same diagnostic workup and treatment as anyone of your age with ischemic stroke would.

Your doctor will use imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI to look for bleeding in your brain and to see if the stroke is affecting the same area of your brain that your migraine is. If so, your doctor will likely diagnose a migrainous infarction.

It's also possible to have a migraine aura that lasts for up to a week or longer without a stroke. This condition is referred to as persistent migraine aura without infarction.

Treatment

For most people, treatment is the same as it is for any ischemic stroke and may include:

  • Medications to treat stroke: If you get help within three hours of the time you first started having symptoms, you'll be put on a medication that helps dissolve the blood clot(s). You may also be given medication to help decrease the swelling in your brain.
  • Supplemental treatments: You may need intravenous (IV) fluids to keep you hydrated and/or oxygen to help you breathe.
  • Preventative medications: Your doctor will likely advise you to avoid medications that can induce a migraine while also giving you medication that will prevent one.

Other potential treatments depend on the severity of your stroke and what underlying condition(s) may have caused it. In general, your doctor will work to decrease your risk of complications from stroke and prevent future strokes, while also treating your migraines and any other medical condition that may have been a factor.

Prevention

It's important to take preventative measures and make any necessary lifestyle changes that can help lower your chance of having migrainous infarction. Factors that increase your risk when you have migraine with aura include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • Untreated diabetes, high blood pressure, or dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol levels)

A Word From Verywell

Though having a stroke along with a migraine or headache is rare, if you have migraines, it's important to know when you should worry about your head pain. The first rule of thumb is to see your doctor or head to the emergency room if you've had an aura for over an hour. Thankfully, these strokes are usually mild and generally result in a complete recovery.

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