Healthy living * Mental wellbeing

Migraines linked to heart disease

migrane can be a risk factor for heart disease Increased risk of heart attacks and other conditions

People who suffer from migraines may be at higher risk of heart attacks and other cardiac conditions, a new study suggests.

Migraine sufferers were found to be twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to people without migraines - 4.1% compared to 1.9%. Over 11,000 people were analysed in the study, of which more than 6,000 experienced migraines.

Participants answered questions about headaches, treatment, general health and any diagnosed heart problems.

Study leader Marcelo E. Bigal commented: "While the overall risk of heart problems in people with migraine is small, these findings are consistent with other studies showing people with migraine are more likely to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease."

Migraine occurs in two main forms, without aura and migraine with aura. Both forms involve pulsing or throbbing pain, pain on one side of the head, nausea or vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound. Migraine with aura has additional neurological symptoms including flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or a greying-out of vision. Migraine is most common between the ages of 25 and 55; women are affected three times more frequently than men.

Heart disease risk was increased to around 6% in the cases of people who experienced migraine with aura, compared to people without migraines. They were also one and half times more likely to have diabetes and high cholesterol compared to people without migraine.

Another member of the study, Richard B. Lipton, noted: "Migraine has been viewed as a painful condition that affects quality of life, but not as a threat to people's overall health. Our study suggests that migraine is not an isolated disorder and that, when caring for people with migraine, we should also be attentive to detecting and treating their cardiovascular risk factors."

"We hope these findings will motivate migraine sufferers to exercise regularly, to avoid smoking and to address their other health problems," said researcher Dawn Buse.

"It is important to view migraine as more than a series of individual attacks. We need to think about migraine as a chronic disorder with episodic attacks – and between those attacks, migraine sufferers have an enduring predisposition to cardiovascular events. In that sense, migraine has a lot in common with conditions like asthma, where sufferers seem fine between attacks, but there is more going on beneath the surface."

The study is published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

This article was published on Thu 11 February 2010

Image © Suprijono Suharjoto -

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