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School of Medicine


Dr. Sen's migraine research featured in prominent medical journal

Study indicates association between migraines with visual auras and increased stroke risk 


A study led by Chair of the Department of Clinical Neurology Souvik Sen, M.D., Ph.D., indicates that individuals who experience migraines, a type of severe headache, with a visual aura may have an increased risk of an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

Because the irregular heart rhythm produced by atrial fibrillation can lead to blood pooling in the heart and possibly forming clots that may travel to the brain, these patients are also at an increased risk of stroke.

“Since atrial fibrillation is a common source of strokes caused by blood clots, and previous research has shown a link between migraine with aura and stroke, we wanted to see if people who have migraine with aura also have a higher rate of atrial fibrillation,” said study author Souvik Sen, MD, MS, MPH, of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “Atrial fibrillation can be managed through medication, but many people do not realize that they have atrial fibrillation.”

The study findings were published on Nov. 14 in an online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, 11,939 people with an average age of 60 without prior atrial fibrillation or stroke were evaluated for headache. Of those 9,405 did not have headache and 1,516 had migraine. Of those who had migraine, 426 had migraine with visual aura. The participants were followed for up to 20 years.

During the study, 1,623 people without headache, or 17 percent, developed atrial fibrillation while 80 of 440 people with migraine with aura, or 18 percent, developed the condition and 152 of 1,105 people with migraine without aura, or 14 percent.

“Our research suggests that atrial fibrillation may play a role in stroke in those with migraine with visual aura,” Sen says. “It is important to note that people with migraine with aura may be at a higher risk of atrial fibrillation due to problems with the autonomic nervous system, which helps control the heart and blood vessels. More research is needed to determine if people with migraine with visual aura should be screened for atrial fibrillation.”

The full study is available on Neurology’s website.