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Ocular Migraines and Stroke Risk: Is There a Connection?

complete guide to ocular migraines and stroke risk connection

There’s an emerging connection between ocular migraines and stroke risk. The issue becomes complicated as the symptoms of ocular migraine and stroke are nearly identical.

If you suffer from migraines, it’s essential to know the difference between an ocular migraine and a stroke. This article will guide you through everything you must know.

Table of contents:

Statistics for Ocular Migraines and Stroke Risk

If you were suspicious that migraines and stroke were connected, you were right.

Migraine sufferers are at a higher risk of ischemic stroke, which is the type of stroke caused by a blood clot obstructing an artery in the brain.

The risk of stroke almost triples for those who suffer from regular ocular migraines, according to the American Stroke Association.

Of course, that does not mean that every person who experiences an ocular migraine will suffer a stroke, only that their risk is higher than the average population.

But what exactly is an ocular migraine anyway?

What Is an Ocular Migraine?

Senior woman suffering from ocular migraine


First off, regular migraines are severe headaches that are caused by the cerebral blood vessels shrinking. This creates painful throbbing or pulsing in the skull.

Ocular migraines display the same symptoms as normal migraines, but they also include visual disturbances called auras.

Auras can look like flashing, zigzagging, or shimmering lights or stars. Sometimes they even cause blindness in one or both eyes. Many people report seeing these auras before they feel the ocular migraine.

Other aura symptoms include:

  • Numbness or tingling in hands and face
  • Feeling mentally foggy or confused
  • Impaired sense of touch, taste, or smell

These symptoms overlap with common stroke symptoms, which include:

  • Weakness in the arm or leg
  • Facial drooping
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden intense vertigo or dizziness
  • Sudden onset of numbness

So, how can you tell the difference?

How to Tell the Difference Between an Ocular Migraine and Stroke

There are three main differences between ocular migraine and stroke:

  • Symptom onset. With strokes and mini-strokes, symptom onset is almost instant. With migraines, however, the pain and other symptoms will gradually worsen over about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Presence of aura. Auras do not accompany strokes. If you are having a stroke, you will not see flashing lights. Rather, your vision might get increasingly blurry.
  • Length of time. Migraines last several hours, sometimes days. Mini-strokes, on the other hand, last less than an hour.

Normally, migraines start out with positive symptoms, while strokes tend to begin with negative symptoms.

This means that at the start of a stroke, you will lose functions, such as the ability to speak or feel your face. But when an ocular migraine begins, you’ll notice something added to your vision, such as bright flashes of light.

Therefore, if you experience a sudden, strong headache, with instant facial numbness and no visual disturbances, call 9-1-1 immediately. That’s a sign of a stroke.

If you are ever in doubt though, you should still call 9-1-1. You can limit disability if you catch a stroke early.

Can You Have a Stroke During an Ocular Migraine Attack?

Woman suffering from an ocular migraine in crowded public place

In rare cases, a stroke can occur during an ocular migraine. Doctors call these strokes migraneous infarctions, and they account for only 0.5 percent of all stroke cases.

Migraneous infarctions can be even tougher to distinguish from an ocular migraine because they also involve an aura.

The difference is, the aura during an infarction lasts much longer than a migraine. Most auras only last around 30 minutes.

If you continue to see flashing or shimmering lights for over an hour, seek treatment right away.

Managing Ocular Migraines and Stroke Risk

Besides avoiding common triggers, there are several other ways to reduce your risk of ocular migraines.

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise is the best way to improve your vascular health, which will help prevent both stroke and migraines. It also releases endorphins that reduce stress, a common migraine trigger.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration causes blood vessels to shrink, which increases the risk of migraines and stroke. Drinking enough water increases blood volume, making your blood flow easier through your veins.
  • Meditation is another great way to reduce stress, which will help you manage your migraines.

These methods also help lower your risk of stroke, which makes them great healthy habits for individuals that struggle with ocular migraines.

Managing Ocular Migraines and Stroke Risk

Since ocular migraines increase a person’s stroke risk, it is important to recognize the difference between a stroke and a migraine, so you can receive the proper treatment.

What most distinguishes a stroke from a migraine is how fast the symptoms appear. Migraines worsen over time, and there is often a warning before it hits. No such warning exists for a stroke.

However, even if you suffer from ocular migraines, you can take steps to reduce your risk of stroke by exercising regularly and managing stress through meditation or other practices.

We hope this article helped you understand the connection between ocular migraines and stroke risk.

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