Many diseases related to blood vessels in the brain can cause headache, including stroke. There are three main types of stroke – ischaemic, haemorrhagic, and transient ischaemic attacks (TIAS). All three involve some kind of disruption to blood flow in the brain. Ischaemic strokes are caused by a blockage in the arteries, for example a blood clot. Haemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand, happen when an artery leaks blood or ruptures, which might be caused by high blood pressure or aneurysms. A TIA is sometimes called a ‘mini-stroke’, because the blood flow is only blocked for a short period of time (less than 5 minutes).
Each type of stroke can cause stroke-related headache accompanied by other symptoms. Please see Haemorrhage, Aneurysm & Related Disorders for information on haemorrhagic stroke.
Ischaemic stroke-related headache
Headache attributed to ischaemic stroke usually has an acute onset and is associated with other neurological symptoms of stroke. Stroke symptoms vary depending on the location of the stroke, but commonly include one-sided facial drooping, muscle weakness (especially in the arms), and difficulty speaking. The headache itself does not have any particular characteristic features, and is usually of moderate intensity. The headache can develop prior to a stroke, or can be a persistent symptom following a stroke.
Headaches associated with transient ischaemic attacks (TIA) have a sudden onset which occurs simultaneously with other TIA symptoms. TIA symptoms may include dizziness, loss of vision, numbness, weakness, or nausea. The headache resolves commonly within 24 hours but a doctor should still be consulted since TIA increases your risk of having a stroke, which may result in permanent loss of neurological function, in the future.
Stroke-related headache is just one neurological symptom amongst many that may signify someone needs medical attention for a stroke.
Stroke – Brain Foundation – this page has a full overview of the signs, treatment, and recovery from stroke in more detail.
Transient Ischaemic Attack – Brain Foundation
Haemorrhage, Aneurysm & Related Disorders – other blood vessel disorders that may cause headache.
2016: Association of cardiovascular risk and migraine – a study published in 2016 that investigated cardiovascular events (such as stroke) and the connection to migraine. This is separate to headaches caused by stroke, but may be of interest to those who experience migraine attacks.