Migraines are a headache – both literally and figuratively. They can come on without warning and leave you canceling plans and crawling to bed or a darkened room to ride out the misery. While migraines alone are challenging, those with an aura can be a sign of something more serious.
About 20 percent of people who get migraines also experience an aura. Auras are usually visual and often appear as a blurred area in the field of vision, a “tunnel” that blurs the edges of the field of vision, or flashing, “sparkling” light. They may also effect other areas of the body such as speech, or feel like a tingling sensation that moves up one arm and even into the face. All of this is caused by activity in the brain; not in the actual eyes, mouth or arm.
“We’ve learned that people who have migraines with an aura are at increased risk for stroke,” said Kate Knight, RN, and stroke coordinator at Kootenai Health. “It is important for these people to be aware of that risk so they and their physician can take it into consideration when making decisions about the medications they take, activities they engage in, and when they should seek emergency care.”
For example, the risk of stroke can be compounded with certain types of birth control.
“People who experience an aura with their migraines are statistically between two and four times as likely as the rest of the population to experience a stroke,” said OB/GYN Brenna McCrummen, M.D. of Kootenai Clinic Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Estrogen-based birth control can also contribute to an increased risk of stroke. By itself that risk is very small, but when combined with other risk factors such as migraines with aura, it’s wise to consider other options.”
“Thankfully, today we have many different, safe birth control options. Those that use only progesterone do not increase the risk of stroke and are often a good choice for women who have migraines with aura,” said Dr. McCrummen.
Another important thing to keep in mind – there are many different types of headaches. Some women experience migraines when their estrogen levels drop as part of their monthly menstrual cycle. These “menstrual migraines” are usually not accompanied by an aura. In these instances, an estrogen-based birth control pill, especially one taken continuously can actually help reduce the frequency or intensity of migraines.
Ultimately, the best medical advice – whether you are dealing with migraines, concerns about stroke, or reproductive health – comes from your own health care provider. Making sure he or she knows your full medical history and all your current medications can go a long way toward ensuring you receive the best care possible.
Talk to the Doc
If you have concerns about migraines, stroke or reproductive health, talk with your physician or provider – he or she can offer solutions to improve and preserve your health! Need to find a provider? Call the Kootenai Clinic Appointment Center at (208) 625-6767.