Migraines With Aura Tied to Heart Disease Risk

Aura Sufferers Twice as Likely to Have Significant Heart Disease Risk Factors

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 22, 2005 - Migraine sufferers have twice the heart disease risk as nonsufferers, especially if the migraine is accompanied by an aura, new research shows.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Neurology.

One-third of migraine sufferers have what's known as aura -- fleeting visual disturbances before the headache begins. Young women having aura migraines have an increased risk of stroke. If they smoke or take birth control pills, their risk is even higher.

"There has been substantial literature confirming an association between migraine with aura and ischemic stroke before the age of 45," writes lead researcher Ann Scher, MD, with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. "But the question of whether there is a similar association with [heart disease] has not yet been definitely answered."

Her study investigates this possible link between migraines and heart disease. "For reasons that are not yet clear, people with migraine -- particularly those with aura -- may be more likely to have risk factors associated with [heart disease]," she writes.

Four studies of migraine sufferers did not uncover this sort of link, but those studies involved middle-aged or older adults, she notes. One study did not look at aura specifically.

Migraines, Aura, and Heart Disease

In their study, Scher and her colleagues focused on 620 migraine sufferers, 31% of whom had aura. Researchers logged the heart disease risk factors of each volunteer, including blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and birth control pill use.

They found that men with migraine were nearly twice as likely to have a father who had an early heart attack. Both men and women with migraines were nearly twice as likely to have a mother who had an early heart attack.

Migraine sufferers with auras had the most heart disease risk factors, she writes.

  • They were 40%-60% more likely to have high cholesterol and 70% more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Women were twice as likely to use birth control pills.
  • They had a three times greater risk of reporting premature heart disease or stroke.

Overall, those having migraines with aura were "roughly twice or more likely" to have significant heart disease risk factors, she writes.

Understanding the role of classic risk factors for cardiovascular disease in migraine sufferers might help to understand why people with migraines and aura have an increased risk of early stroke, she writes.

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SOURCES: News release, American Academy of Neurology. Scher, A. Neurology, February 2005; vol. 64: pp 614-620.
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