Migraine Headache Could Be Heart Warning
People who suffer from migraine headaches probably think that nothing could be worse, but health researchers say they're wrong: a new study concludes that migraine sufferers are two to three times more likely to have heart attacks as people without migraine.
The study, published online in the journal Neurology, found that migraine sufferers also face increased risk for stroke and are more likely to have key risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
"Migraine has been viewed as a painful condition that affects quality of life, but not as a threat to people’s overall health," said lead investigator Dr. Richard B. Lipton, senior author of the study conducted by researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York. “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.”
More than 29 million Americans suffer from migraine, according to the National Headache Foundation. There are two major forms, migraine 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, zigzag lines, or a graying out of vision. Migraine is most common between the ages of 25 and 55; women are affected three times more frequently than men.
Previous population studies found that migraine with aura is associated with heart disease and stroke, particularly in health care professionals over the age of 45. The Einstein study showed that both migraine with aura and migraine without aura are risk factors for heart disease and stroke in a broadly representative sample of the US population, including people from all walks of life between the ages of 18 and 80.
In the study, researchers analyzed data on 6,102 people with migraine and 5,243 people without migraine. Participants completed questionnaires that asked about general health; headache frequency, severity and symptoms; and a broad range of medically diagnosed cardiovascular symptoms and events. Data was collected as part of The American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study, a longitudinal, population-based study of US headache sufferers.
Results showed that migraine sufferers were about twice as likely to have had a heart attack compared with people without migraine. The heart-attack risk was higher for those whose migraine is accompanied by aura -- a threefold greater risk compared with people who didn’t suffer migraine.
The data also shows that people with migraine were about 50% more likely than those in a control group to have diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol, all well-known cardiovascular risk factors. The study found that these risk factors may contribute -- but do not fully explain -- the increased risk of heart attack and stroke in persons with migraine.
This finding, according to an editorial accompanying the study, suggests a possible mechanism linking migraine headaches and cardiovascular events: the functioning of the inner layer of blood vessels, known as the endothelium, might be compromised in vessels both inside and outside the brains of migraine sufferers.
"Migraine sufferers should not be alarmed by our findings," Lipton said. "While we found an increased risk for cardiovascular problems, the percentage of people actually affected remains small. Overall, for example, only 4.1% of migraine sufferers had heart attacks. And while the risk of stroke was 60% higher for migraine sufferers than for the rest of the population, the percentage of migraine sufferers experiencing strokes was still quite low – 2%."
The main message of the study, said Lipton, is that migraine patients and their doctors should be particularly attentive to identifying and managing cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes.
(Article courtesy of ConsumerAffairs.com)
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