life: super powers not included

Lucky Me: Migraines Linked to Stroke

Lion Headache
photo by ucumari

This is how I feel. Minus the fur.

I’m a little peeved. Last night, I was sidelined with a killer caffeine-resistant headache that grew stronger as the night went on. It was so bad, I broke down and popped some Excedrin, a big no-no during PRP thanks to the drug’s anti-inflammatory property. It wasn’t a migraine—my migraines are way more interesting than that—but it was almost as painful.

So you can imagine why I’m a little annoyed to learn that researchers at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston say people who get migraines are at an increased risk for stroke.

Especially if you’re a woman. Check.

Especially if you experience auras. Check.

Especially if you take birth control. Check.

During my first migraine, I was sure I was having a stroke. (So, yeah, I get the connection.) It started in my eyes. Suddenly, my peripheral vision was taken over by crazy disco lights that flashed without rhyme or reason. Soon, the flashing turned to zigzags and worked its way across the main part of my vision. At this point, I was severely freaking out. And then my left hand started going numb, working its way from a tingle to full-fledged numbness. My freaking out became more intense. All I knew is that I was dying and was going to miss The Notebook. I didn’t even care. I was dying. Then the left side of my face went numb. My lips went numb, my tongue even went numb. And then—a lightening bolt of pain splintered my skull (or so it felt like that). The flashing lights and numbness faded away and I was left with a massive ache pounding around in my head.

Every other time I’ve had a migraine—and I’ve only had about four in the past five or six years—it’s the same routine. My eyes start getting all freaky. I think I’m going blind. Zigzags appear and I realize what I’m in for. The left side of my body shuts down. A headache closes the show. And every single one of those times I seriously considered the fact that I might be having a stroke. Seriously. I’m sure I’ll think that next time too. Especially after this new study.

So, on to the basics …

What’s a migraine?
A migraine is a super headache—and not as in wow, that’s a super headache you got there. More like, my head’s going to explode in T minus 5 … 4 … 3 … kapow. For some people that’s it. But wait, there’s more. For a lucky third of sufferers, a migraine is accompanied by an aura, which includes flashing lights, vision impairment or loss, and numbness.

What’s an ischemic stroke?
The type of stroke mentioned in this study, known as an ischemic stroke, happens when there’s obstruction in a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain. You really shouldn’t mess with the brain. If you have a stroke, depending on where in the brain your stroke happened, you could have vision problems, paralysis on one side of the body, memory problems, and even difficulty speaking.

What’s the research say?
The study, published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, was an analysis of nine studies. Researchers found that people who get migraines with an aura had twice risk of ischemic stroke than those who didn’t have migraines. The risk was especially increased in women, people under age 45, smokers, and women taking oral contraceptives. “Young women who have migraine with aura should be strongly advised to stop smoking, and methods of birth control other than oral contraceptives may be considered,” the authors conclude.

I’m totally freaking out a little nervous about this, especially since I’ve read other studies (like this) that link the two conditions. Even though I think the risk is real, I’m going to try to focus on these two things:

  1. The analysis didn’t take migraine frequency or severity into account. There are people out there who get migraines every week—daily even, and I pity you! Since I’m averaging less than one per year, does that mean I’m exempt? Pretty please?
  2. US News & World Report spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Loder of the division of headache and pain at Brigham and Women’ Hospital, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal. Here’s her take: “The risk of stroke for most people with migraine is low—stroke is an uncommon event—and so a doubling of that low baseline risk is not cause for alarm.”

And then there’s the whole Pill issue. I’d be totally OK, 100 percent fine with quitting cold turkey if it weren’t for the stabbing pains that hit every month. On the pill, they last three days. Off the pill: one long, torturous week. I remember those days, back when I’d crank out 50 sit-ups at 4 a.m. in hopes that the cramps would ease up. (Don’t believe everything you read in desperation on the Internet.) I’d pop six Motrin at once, hoping for relief that never, ever, ever came. It was like a personal Hell each and every month. That’s why I almost cried with relief the first Pill period I had. Um, yeah, and my skin cleared up. Go ahead, call me vain.

So, as you can imagine, I’m not so willing to part with my pill. Then again, I’m also not so keen on being paralyzed or having my brain short circuit. Choices, choices. So, give me your input. I need reasonable people to suggest a reasonable decision.

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1 Joy Manning { 11.02.09 at 10:37 am }

I quit taking the pill for a lot of different reasons, but mainly because I watched my father almost die from a blood clot and looks like a terrible way to go, and because the pill vaporize my sex drive entirely. Then again, I don’t have the cramps that you do. People do change though. Maybe you’d find that it’s not as severe as when you started taking the pill. I’d say you should talk to your doctor, but in my experience doctors are thick as thieves with the drug companies and want you to take as many pills as possible.


Tracey Reply:

Blood clots do sound terrible, which is what makes me nervous in the first place. But the cramps are painful–and real. I’m still weighing the options, but I think I’ll talk to my doctor next time I see her. My biggest fear: She’ll make me switch to a different pill. Finding one you like is a torturous process!


2 Dr. You: Do You Self-diagnose With Google? — i'm (not) superhuman { 02.08.10 at 10:37 am }

[...] first time I got a migraine, google suggested I was having a stroke. It nearly gave me a heart attack. (Thanks a lot for that [...]

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