Although the overall risk was small, researchers found that people who have migraines were twice as likely to have a heart attack, and people who have migraines with aura were nearly three times more likely to have a heart attack, than others. Migraines with aura are preceded by sensations such as seeing flashing lights.
The study also shows that people with migraines are more likely to have major risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, which may partially explain this increased risk of heart attack.
"Our results provide another reason for people with migraine to reduce other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and obesity," says researcher Marcelo E. Bigal, MD, PhD, of Merck Research Laboratories and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., in a news release.
However, even after adjusting for these underlying risk factors for heart disease, researchers found people with migraines were still more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or evidence of peripheral artery disease (a buildup of plaque in the arteries usually in the legs or arms).
Migraines and Heart Attack
The study compared the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other risk factors for heart disease among 6,102 people with migraine headaches and a comparison group of 5,243 people without headaches who were surveyed about their health.
The results, published in Neurology, showed that 4.1% people who had migraines had a heart attack compared with 1.9% of the rest. The risk of heart attack was nearly three times greater for people who experienced migraine with aura than for people without migraines.
People with migraines with aura were also nearly three times more likely to have had a stroke.
The risk of other underlying risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure, was highest among those with migraine with aura, but it was also elevated among those with regular migraines.
Researchers say previous studies have suggested that only people with migraine with aura were at increased risk for heart disease. But these results show otherwise.
While the overall risk of heart problems in people with migraine headaches is small, the researchers say it is significant and higher compared to the rest of the population, which merits further research.