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experts comment on research suggesting links between migraine and stroke risk in pregnancy, as published in the BMJ

A study of patient records in the US suggested that mothers-to-be who suffer from migraines are at a higher risk of stroke.

Mr Patrick O’Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“This is a very interesting piece of research. It involves very large numbers of women – over 18 million – so is very reliable.

“It fits in very well with a growing body of research about the effects of pregnancy on blood vessels, and on pre-existing conditions affecting blood vessels. For example, another recent paper in the BMJ showed that women who develop pre-eclampsia (a condition causing high blood pressure) in pregnancy are at increased risk of stroke and heart disease later in life.

“It’s important to reinforce a point made by the authors that, even though migraine does seem to be associated with an increased risk of stroke in pregnancy, the overall risk to an individual woman is extremely low, because stroke in pregnancy is rare (4 per 100,000 births).

“These findings are plausible. All these conditions (stroke, migraine, thrombosis) may be associated with abnormalities of blood vessels and blood vessel walls, so the link is feasible. What this study does not explain is whether there is any cause and effect operating here, or whether these two conditions are just linked. As the authors conclude, further research is needed to tease out the answer to that question.”

Dr Tim Chico, Clinician Scientist and honorary Consultant Cardiologist & Deputy Director NIHR Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit, University of Sheffield, said:

“We must understand the drawbacks of studies based on limited information obtained from databases of patient records. This study suggests (but by no means proves) suffering migraine might increase risk of stroke during pregnancy. However, although migraine is quite common the risk of stroke during pregnancy is mercifully very low (1 in 25 000), so I don’t think pregnant migraine sufferers should be too concerned. The most important causes of stroke remain smoking, obesity, alcohol, lack of exercise and poor diet, which we can all do something about. We mustn’t let studies like these detract from this important message.”

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