If migraines are a regular part of your life, you might want to pay extra attention to your heart health, too. Studies show that some folks who get migraines are also more likely to have strokes and heart attacks.
If you have only occasional migraines, this may not be something you need to worry about. But if it's a regular, long-term problem for you -- especially if you get visual symptoms with your migraine -- your chances of heart disease could go up.
Doctors aren't clear why there's a link between migraines and heart trouble. Some experts think that during a migraine with a visual aura, blood flow to one small area of the brain declines for a while, which can lead to inflammation in blood vessels.
Other doctors think the same genes that make people likely to get migraines also raise their chances of heart disease.
Either way, it's important to know about the risk and watch for early warning signs of heart trouble or stroke.
Many studies over the past few decades suggest a link between migraines and strokes. Research shows that women who get migraines with auras are three to four times more likely to get one. The link is weaker for men, women who get migraines without auras, and for people over the age of 45.
Doctors don't know yet whether treating migraines helps lower your odds of getting a stroke. It's always a good idea to take some simple steps to cut your chances of stroke, like:
- Keep your blood pressure low
- Get your cholesterol levels into a healthy range
- Lose weight if you need to
- Stay active
- Don't smoke
Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you have any signs of a stroke, such as:
- Drooping face
- Arm weakness
- Slurred speech
A recent study shows that people who get migraines are about two times more likely to get heart attacks or heart rhythm disorders like atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter.
Just like with strokes, the study shows the link with heart attacks is stronger in people who get migraines with auras.
See your doctor if you have any of these signs of heart disease:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath, fainting, lightheadedness, or dizziness
- Pain, numbness, weakness, or coldness in your legs or arms
- Fluttering in your chest or an unusually slow or fast heartbeat
High Blood Pressure
Research on the link between migraines and high blood pressure is mixed. Some studies suggest that high blood pressure may make migraines worse, but others don't see a connection. And some studies show that that people with long-term migraine are more likely to have low blood pressure.
Doctors do know that the same drugs used to treat high blood pressure, including calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors, can be successful in treating migraines.
To lower your chances of getting high blood pressure, make some lifestyle changes, such as:
- Eat a healthy diet low in salt
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Keep to a healthy weight
Since heart attacks and strokes are caused by blockages in blood vessels of the heart or brain, it's not surprising that migraines may also be linked to blood clots elsewhere in the body.
One study shows that women with migraine who take hormonal birth control are more likely to have blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis, which usually forms in one of your legs and can cause pain or swelling.
If you have long-term migraine and are on hormonal birth control, talk to your doctor to see if there are other things that could add to your chances of getting blood clots, and what you can do to lower those odds.