Migraine Sufferers At Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Events

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Those who suffer from chronic migraine headaches may also be at a higher risk for cardiovascular events such as stroke or heart attack, most likely due to conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University published their findings in the February 10th online edition of the journal Neurology.

Lead investigator Dr. Richard Lipton and collegues analyzed data on over 11,000 people. A little over 50% suffered from migraine headaches. Migraine sufferers were about twice as likely to have had a heart attack or stroke. Those who suffered migraine “auras” – symptoms such as flashing lights, zigzags, or blind spots in the vision – increased the risk further.

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The likely reason for the connection is that damage of the lining of the blood vessels from conditions such as high blood pressure not only lead to heart disease, but may also trigger migraines. The study did find that those with migraine were more likely to have accompanying risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Migraine headaches are painful, chronic headahces that are sometimes accompanied by symptoms such as auras, nausea and vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. They are most common between the ages of 25 and 55, and women are three times more likely to be affected than men. There is no cure, but symptoms can be managed with medications and certain lifestyle changes, such as relaxation techniques and adequate sleep.

Dr. Lipton says that it is important for doctors who treat patients for migraine headaches to also be aware of the need to screen for other chronic conditions that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. “Migraine has been viewed as a painful condition that affects quality of life, but not as a threat to people’s overall health,” he said. “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.”

Although previous studies have found similar links between migraines and heart disease, Dr. Lipton also warns against over-interpretation of the results. “There is no reason for people who get migraines to panic as the extra overall risk is very small. However, it is wise for migraine sufferers – just as it is for all us - to avoid smoking, eat a healthy diet and be physically active as this helps to protect our hearts.”

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