Killer Migraines Might be Fatal after All- Mortality Rates among Migraine Sufferers

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“I feel a killer of a migraine coming up,” you say offhandedly, but consistent research suggests that if you get frequent migraines with aura, your mortality rate might be higher than non-migraineurs.  Find out why migraine headache sufferers are more likely to suffer from stroke or heart attack, and what you can do about it.


December 1993- woman dies of migraine symptoms

Amanda Livingstone, age 25, went to two different doctors, complaining of severe headache, uncontrolled vomiting, and visual distortions.  Both times, doctors diagnosed her with migraine headaches and instructed her to take painkillers.  After one week of debilitating headaches, Amanda went into a coma and died of brain hemorrhage.  Had doctors ordered a brain scan, she might be alive today.

October 2011- woman dies of migraine symptoms

In Malaga, Spain, prosecutors are investigating the death of a 30-year-old woman who had been receiving treatments for migraines and hypertension for the past year.  On October 13, after numerous visits to the hospital and referrals to migraine specialists, she died of brain hemorrhage.  Had doctors ordered a brain scan, she might also be alive today.


Studies confirm high mortality rate among migraine sufferers

According to numerous scientific studies, there is a high correlation between migraine with aura and increased risk for stroke and heart disease.

University of Iceland study, 2010

The following study on migraine with aura included over 18,000 men and women from Reykjavik, Iceland, and followed them for a 40-year period.

  • Scientists categorized headache symptoms into three groups- migraine with aura, migraine without aura, and non-migraine headaches.
  • By the end of the study, over 10,000 participants had died.
  • Out of the 10,000 fatalities, approximately 4,000 resulted from cardiovascular illness.
  • Compared with non-headache sufferers, patients of migraine with aura have a higher mortality rate, and are more likely to die of heart attack or stroke, say researchers.
  • Sufferers of migraines without aura and non-migraine headaches are no more likely to die of stroke or heart disease than individuals who don’t get chronic headaches at all.
  • Scientists concluded that migraine auras are the most common risk factor among headache sufferers.

Harvard University study, 2011

This more recent study on migraines and mortality determined that people who suffer migraines with aura have a higher mortality risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD).  The same researcher, Dr. Tobias Kurth, also determined in his study on Migraine and stroke that women who suffer active migraine with aura are twice as likely to suffer hemorrhagic stroke as women who get migraine headaches without the prodrome phase that includes aura.

What are the symptoms of stroke and heart attack?

If you suffer from chronic migraine headaches, then health experts recommend you familiarize yourself with the symptoms of stroke and heart attack, so that you may recognize the beginning stages head-on and seek emergency care immediately.

To determine if somebody is suffering from a stroke, think FAST:

  • Face: Ask the person in question to smile- is one side of the face looks droopier than the other side, that person might be having a stroke.  Numbness may occur on one side of the body in the face, arms, and legs.
  • Arms: Ask her to hold up both arms, and note if one arm drifts downward.  Loss of coordination, dizziness, and difficulty walking are symptoms of stroke.
  • Speech: Is his speech garbled, nonsensical, or incomprehensible?  Stroke victims may have difficulty understanding what people are saying and communicating with them.  (Note- speech difficulties are also a symptom of migraine aura.)
  • Time: Take note of the time when first symptoms occurred, and call 911 emergency services right away.  An FDA-approved medication may prevent long-term damage, but only if a doctor is available to administer it during the first three hours of symptoms.

Prevent Suffering a Stroke- Follow these 5 Simple Rules

Heart attack symptoms:

  • Chest pain that may also spread to the rest of the upper body, including face, shoulders, back, and arms
  • Stomach pain that mimics heartburn
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you suspect you might be suffering a heart attack, but don’t have all of the symptoms described, call 911 anyways.  Not all heart attack sufferers experience all the symptoms at the same level of severity.


The best way to prevent suffering heart disease or stroke is by lowering your risks.  If you smoke, then quit.  Exercise regularly, even for just 30 minutes each day, and at a comfortable pace.  If you’re significantly overweight, then try to control your weight by following a sensible diet.  Keep checking your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  If you suffer from depression or anxiety, then seek treatment; not only will you feel better, but the decreased stress will also lower your mortality rate.

Read more about migraine symptoms:

When Migraine Aura with Aphasia leaves you Lost for Words

Avoiding Migraine Triggers- Here, There and Everywhere

Wear a Medical Emergency ID- Save your Breath and your Sanity


Migraine and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis- PubMed- NCBI

Migraine with aura and risk of cardiovascular and all cause mortality in men and women: prospective cohort study- PubMed- NCBI

Migraine and stroke: a complex association with clinical implications- PubMed- NCBI

Woman died after migraine diagnosis

Probe into death of woman diagnosed with migraine

Migraine With Aura Linked to Increased Mortality From Stroke and Heart Disease

National Stroke Association: Stroke Symptoms

Heart attack symptoms: Know what’s a medical emergency

Image credits

Deborah Leigh (Migraine Chick), quinn.anya