Frequency of Patent Foramen Ovale and Migraine in Patients With Cryptogenic Stroke

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Background and Purpose—Individuals with migraine are at higher risk for stroke, but the mechanism has not been established. On the basis of the association between migraine and intracardiac right-to-left shunt, it has been proposed that stroke in migraineurs could be caused by a paradoxical embolus passing through a patent foramen ovale (PFO) or pulmonary arteriovenous malformation. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of PFO with right-to-left shunt in patients who presented with cryptogenic stroke and had a history of migraine. Methods—Patients between 18 and 60 years old who presented with an ischemic stroke were characterized based on ASCOD phenotyping (atherosclerosis; small-vessel disease; cardiac pathology; other causes; dissection). A migraine diagnosis was identified by reviewing physician notes, and frequent aura was defined if present in at least 50% of attacks. A PFO with right-to-left shunt diagnosis was identified by the presence of a positive bubble contrast study with either transcranial Doppler, transthoracic, or transesophageal echocardiography. Results—Of the 712 patients who presented with ischemic stroke, 127 (18%) were diagnosed as cryptogenic; 68 patients had adequate testing for PFO and a documented migraine history. The prevalence of PFO in patients with cryptogenic stroke without migraine was elevated (59%) compared with the general population (18%). Patients with both cryptogenic stroke and migraine had a higher prevalence of PFO (79%). In patients with cryptogenic stroke who had migraine with frequent aura, the prevalence of PFO was 93%. Only 5 patients (4%) had a history compatible with migrainous infarction. Conclusions—In patients with cryptogenic stroke who have migraine, there is a high prevalence (79%) of PFO with right-to-left shunt. The timing of the stroke in migraineurs is usually not related to a migraine attack. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that the mechanism of stroke in migraineurs is most likely because of a paradoxical embolus. Future cryptogenic stroke classification schemes should consider including PFO as a separate etiologic category.


Cryptogenic stroke; Migraine; Patent foramen ovale


Medicine and Health Sciences



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