Women’s Migraines Multiply Heart Risk
Migraine Headaches With Aura Magnifies Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke in Women
July 30, 2008 -- Women who suffer from migraine headaches with aura may
be up to three times more likely to develop heart disease than other women,
and part of the reason may be in their genes.
A new study suggests a genetic link between women's heart disease risk,
migraine with aura, and a genetic variant carried by about 11% of the
Gene + Migraine May Spell Heart Trouble
Migraine symptoms vary and may occur with a warning sign called an aura. The
aura usually begins about 30 minutes before the headache starts and consists of
visual cues such as seeing spots, wavy lines, or flashing lights. Some people
may also have numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation in their hands.
In the study, published in Neurology, researchers examined the
relationship between genes, migraine headache, and heart disease in more than
25,000 white women who participated in the Women's Health Study.
The women were tested for a certain gene variant in the MTHFR gene, which in
previous studies has been associated with an increased risk of vascular events
in patients who experience migraine with aura. They also completed a
questionnaire about migraine headaches.
Eighteen percent of the women reported having experienced a migraine
headache at least once in their lives. About 13% of the women in the study had
a history of migraine headaches within the past year and were labeled the
active migraine group. Of active migraine sufferers, 40% had migraines with
Over a 12-year follow-up period, 625 women suffered from a heart-related
event, such as heart attack or stroke. The genetic variant by
itself did not seem to increase risk. Active migraine with aura doubled the
risk. But women who had both the genetic variant and active migraine with aura
were three times as likely to experience a heart-related event compared with
women who did not have the gene variant or migraines. In this latter group, the
majority of the increased risk was related to a fourfold increase in risk of
"This gene by itself does not appear to increase the risk for overall
and for specific cardiovascular disease, but rather this research suggests a
possible connection between the gene variant and migraine with aura,"
researcher Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard
Medical School in Boston, says in a news release.
Kurth says the results suggest that women with migraines accompanied by aura
should be counseled in ways to reduce their heart disease risk.
"Doctors should try to reduce heart disease risk factors and advise
young women who experience migraine with aura not to smoke and to consider birth control pill
alternatives," Kurth says.
Because this study looked only at women, researchers say more study is
needed to determine if the migraine with aura and the genetic variant carry the
same heart disease risk in men.
"While it is too early to start testing young women with migraine with
aura for this gene variant, more focused research will help us to understand
these complex links and will help us to potentially develop preventative
strategies," Kurth says.