Aug. 24, 2010 -- Evidence is accumulating that migraines with aura -- a transient visual or sensory disturbance, such as light flashes or zigzag patterns-- may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Researchers have also found that migraine with aura seems to boost the risk of earlier death from any cause, including cardiovascular disease, compared to those who don’t have the condition, and that women with migraine with aura may be at increased risk for an additional type of stroke called hemorrhagic stroke.
The two new studies, both published in BMJ, add to the evidence of a suspected migraine-disease link. But both research teams say the findings should not alarm those who suffer migraine with aura because the risk is still low.
''We don't want to scare people at all," researcher Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, director of research at INSERM at the Hospital del la Pitie Salpetriere in Paris, tells WebMD. The vast majority of migraine sufferers, he says, will not get a stroke because of their migraines.
More than 29 million Americans suffer from migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation. About 20% of middle-age women have migraines, the researchers say, and up to a third have the aura.
In one study, researchers looked at nearly 19,000 men and women born between 1907 and 1935 who were enrolled in the Reykjavik (Iceland) Study, set up to study heart disease.
The researchers followed the men and women for 26 years, looking at death from all causes, including heart disease. They had information on which men and women had migraines, with or without aura, and also non-migraine headaches.
They found those with migraine with aura were about 21% more likely to die during the follow-up than those without the condition, and 27% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease compared to those with no headache.
Women with migraine with aura were 19% more likely to die from non-cardiovascular disease than those without.
The absolute risk, however, is low, says researcher Larus Gudmundsson, a doctoral student at the University of Iceland, Reykjavik. "'In people with migraine with aura, compared to those without headache, the excess absolute 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease mortality (including heart disease and stroke) at age 50 was low: 1.1% for men and 0.1% for women.
"From that we can calculate that due to migraine with aura, 11 extra men per 10,000 persons per year will die from cardiovascular disease and one extra woman per 10,000 persons per year."
In Kurth's study, he looked at the nearly 28,000 women participating in the U.S.-based Women's Health Study, set up to look at the benefits and risks of low-dose aspirin and vitamin E in preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer among healthy women.