Endothelial Function in Migraine With Aura – A Systematic Review

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An increased risk of ischemic stroke is repeatedly reported in young subjects with migraine with aura (MA). Such may be caused by changes in endothelial function. The present review evaluates current evidence on endothelial function in MA patients.


A systematic search of electronic databases (Medline, Embase, Cochrane library) was performed, and a search in associated reference lists of identified studies was done.


In total, 27 studies met inclusion criteria for this review. Six studies assessed endothelial function by flow-mediated dilation; four reported no differences compared with healthy subjects, one study reported an increase and one study a decrease in migraineurs. Peripheral arterial tonometry was applied in one study where no changes were detected between groups. Likewise, applying venous occlusion plethysmography elicited comparable responses. Arterial function was investigated in six studies; increased augmentation index and decreased arterial distensibility were reported in migraineurs, whereas findings regarding pulse wave velocity were dissimilar. However, when investigating levels of endothelial progenitor cells, two studies reported reduced levels in migraineurs, and several studies on endothelial markers in the areas of inflammation, oxidative stress, and coagulation found increased endothelial activation in migraineurs, particularly in MA. One study, assessing cerebral endothelial function using transcranial Doppler sonography, reported lower cerebrovascular reactivity to L-arginine in the posterior cerebral arteries in migraineurs.


Endothelial dysfunction appears not to be of importance in MA patients. However, the studies were few with a wide variety of techniques applied in small groups of patients. Endothelial biomarkers were increased in patients indicating a possible subtle change in the endothelium. Further investigations on larger groups of patients combining testing of endothelial dysfunction as well as biomarkers are warranted to identify whether or not endothelial changes may play a role in the increased risk of stroke in young MA patients.

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