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Can Migraines Kill?

by Teri Robert, Lead Expert

People have many questions about Migraines. Those questions can be about Migraine symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and many other issues. One of the most intense questions that I've been asked on is, "Can Migraines kill?"

"Can Migraines kill?" There is no simple yes-or-no answer to this question, but I'm going to answer it as best I can. Before you continue reading, however, I want you to take a deep breath and promise yourself that you're going to read this entire article so you fully understand the answer.

The answer is: Directly, no; indirectly, yes. At first glance, that answer may be frustrating and frightening, but that's not the whole answer, so keep reading. There are two issues to consider here:

Issue 1: Status Migrainous
Status Migrainous is when the pain of a Migraine attack lasts more than 72 hours without a pain-free break of at least four hours, while awake. Some doctors say this increases risk of stroke and that patients need to see their doctors or go to the emergency room if this happens. Others disagree. My take on it is that there's no sense in taking chances, and we should seek care immediately if this happens.

Issue 2: Cardiovascular Disease Risk
Migraine increases risk of cardiovascular disease and events. That includes stroke. After an extensive review of statistics, Dr. Robert Shapiro concluded:

"Greater than 1400 more US women with migraine with aura die annually from cardiovascular diseases compared to women who do not have migraine."1

This is where we have to put things in perspective and not panic. One in four American women has some form of cardiovascular disease. One in two American women will die from cardiovascular disease, nearly 500,000 women per year.2 The 1,400 female Migraineurs who die each year from cardiovascular disease comprise 2.8% of the 500,000. When we put the numbers in perspective, we find reason to be aware and take care of ourselves, but we don't find reason to panic.

For several years now, researchers have been looking closely to see if Migraine disease increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions and events. They've looked at Migraine with and without aura, and they've tried to identify what type of risks exist and why.

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