Genetic Basis Identified for Type of Migraine That Increases Stroke Risk

A research team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), has identified a genetic mutation that is strongly associated with a typical form of migraine headache—migraine with aura.  The research “puts us one step closer to understanding the molecular pathway to pain in migraine,” according to Louis J. Ptáček, senior investigator on the study and a professor of neurology at UCSF. “And, as we come to a clearer understanding, we can start thinking about better therapies,” he said.

The mutation is in the gene known as casein kinase I delta (CKIdelta). You can read more about the research here.

Could that mean that, one day, genetic testing can help identify people who are at increased for stroke? I hope so. I was one of them

I suffered from relatively mild migraines for twenty years before I had a stroke. Though mild, my migraines were the type of migraine the UCSF study describes: with “aura,” that strange visual disturbance that always preceded the headache—blind spots,  zigzag lines or flashing dots that seemed to pulse before my eyes. Once I saw the aura, the rest would be only minutes behind—the pounding headache, over-sensitivity to light and sound, sometimes nausea. I knew women who had migraines so severe they had to stay home from work and retreat to a dark room in agony. Fortunately mine weren’t that bad.

But—though I didn’t know it at the time—even these mild migraines put me at significantly increased risk for stroke.

Women who suffer from migraines with aura (visual disturbances such as flashing dots or blind spots) can be up to ten times more likely to suffer a stroke, depending on other risk factors, according to Dr.  Steven J. Kittner, professor of neurology and director of the Maryland Stroke Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Migraine is also one of the symptoms of the clotting disorder that caused my stroke, an autoimmune disease I never knew I had until I was slammed by a stroke at forty-eight years old. It’s called Antiphospholipid Syndrome or APS.  APS is also sometimes called “sticky” blood because it makes the blood “thicker” and more prone to clots. After my stroke more than ten years ago, I was put on blood thinners for life. I haven’t had a migraine since. It almost seems to me like the headache signaled my sludgy blood struggling flow through my brain. Until it got stuck and formed a clot that caused a stroke that reordered my life.

I want to get the word out about migraine. If you have them, you’re at increased risk for stroke. Do your brain a favor: evaluate any other risks for stroke you have, and try to reduce them.

Risk factors are cumulative,” Dr. Kittner adds.  “Reducing even one risk can greatly lower your chances of having a stroke.”

Read more about the risk factors for stroke here in this list from the National Stroke Association.