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Migraines Up Women's Stroke, Heart Risks

Study Shows Migraine Frequency Linked to Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes
By
WebMD Health News

April 17, 2008 -- How often a woman has a migraine may play a role in determining her risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Medical evidence has long supported a link between migraines and vascular problems, including strokes, but information regarding migraine frequency and such events has been lacking. 

New research presented this week at the American Academy of Neurology's 60th Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago suggests that women who have weekly migraines have a significantly higher risk for stroke than those who get the headaches less frequently. Those who have infrequent migraines may be more likely to have a heart attack.

The findings are based on the Women's Health Study, which involved 27,798 women health professionals 45 years and older who did not have cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. Cholesterol levels and details about migraine frequency were obtained when the study began.

Researchers grouped migraine frequency into three categories: less than monthly, monthly, or one or more a week. Sixty-five percent said they had a migraine less than once a month, 30% had a monthly migraine, and 5% had migraines at least once a week.

The researchers included Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Kurth's team followed the women for 12 years, documenting the number of cardiovascular events. The following occurred during the study period: 

  • 305 heart attacks
  • 310 ischemic strokes
  • 706 cardiovascular events

Women experiencing frequent migraines were at highest risk:

  • Women who had migraines once per week or more were nearly three times more likely to have an ischemic stroke and one and a half times more likely to experience a heart attack as women without migraines.
  • Women who had infrequent migraines (less than one a month) were one and a half times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. 
  • Women with monthly migraines were not at increased risk.

"Our results may indicate that the mechanisms by which migraine associates with specific cardiovascular events may differ," Kurth says in a news release. "Future studies are needed to address whether migraine prevention reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about three out of four people who get migraines are women.

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