Migraines have a significant association with the incidence of stroke in young adults similar to established risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and heart disease, as per a new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes journal.

A stroke or brain attack causes damage to the brain. It occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain gets blocked (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke)

"We wanted to understand which risk factors were the top contributors to stroke risk among young adults," said study lead author Dr. Michelle Leppert, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colorado in a news release.

The study was based on a database of health insurance claims reported in Colorado. After comparing data from more than 2,600 adults between the ages of 18 to 55 who had strokes with more than 7,800 people who did not to determine which risk factors may most often lead to strokes.

The study found significant associations between migraines, blood clotting disorders, kidney failure, autoimmune diseases, and malignancy, and the occurrence of strokes in individuals aged 18 to 44, among both men and women. This association was stronger in adults younger than 35 years old.

Around 52% of cases studied were among women and more than 73% were ischemic strokes.

Nontraditional risk factors accounted for more than 19% of strokes in men and nearly 28% in women in the age group 45-55. Among adults below the age of 35, migraine was the most important nontraditional risk factor, which accounts for 20% of strokes in men and nearly 35% in women.

The impact of traditional stroke risk factors peaked among adults between the ages of 35 to 44, contributing to nearly 33% of strokes in men and approximately 40% in women. High blood pressure emerged as the most important traditional risk factor for stroke, accounting for 28% of strokes in men and 27% in women.

"These findings are significant because most of our attention has been focused on traditional risk factors. We should not ignore nontraditional stroke risk factors and only focus on traditional risk factors; both are important to the development of strokes among young people," Leppert said.

"In fact, the younger they are at the time of stroke, the more likely their stroke is due to a nontraditional risk factor. We need to better understand the underlying mechanisms of these nontraditional risk factors to develop targeted interventions," she added.