Migraine may increase risk of cardiovascular disease
Migraine, characterized by a throbbing headache, affects an estimated 1 in 5 Americans for at least a part of their life. Women are affected three or four times more than men, though the reasons for this are not understood. Some migraine sufferers also experience a so-called aura that occurs just before or during an attack.
This aura consists of a selection of symptoms that can include seeing flashing lights, experiencing blind spots, confusion, and a loss of balance. Previous research has shown that migraine, especially when it occurs with an aura, is associated with an increased risk of stroke.
Although migraine is known to have a vascular component, it is not understood exactly why there is a link between migraine and stroke, but some scientists have theorized that there may also be a link between migraine and other cardiovascular events.
However, because migraines tend to peak during midlife, and cardiovascular events become more likely with advancing age, connections have been difficult to demonstrate.
Breaking research, published in The BMJ, set out to investigate these potential links with cardiovascular events. A collaboration between scientists in Germany and the United States analyzed data from 115,541 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II.
At the start of the study, the women were all free from angina and other cardiovascular illnesses. Aged 25-42, the participants' health was charted from 1989-2011.
Of the cohort, 17,531 individuals reported migraines at the start of the study. During the course of the follow-up, 1,329 experienced cardiovascular events and 223 died from cardiovascular disease.
Even after adjusting for confounding variables, the women with migraine had an increased risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, angina/coronary revascularization procedures, and stroke.
The authors conclude:
"These results further add to the evidence that migraine should be considered an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease, at least in women."
Overall, the risk for cardiovascular events and stroke was 50 percent higher in women who had migraine, compared with those who did not. This effect was independent of age.
The research team, headed up by Prof. Tobias Kurth, also discovered that migraine was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular mortality. Even once factors such as smoking, age, postmenopausal hormone therapy, hypertension, and oral contraceptive use were adjusted for, the effect was still present.