Migraines may increase risk of stroke and heart attack

Do you suffer from migraines? The attacks are not just debilitating and painful, but could also be increasing your risk of stroke and heart attack, new research reveals.

Migraines are not simply headaches. The term ‘migraine’ encapsulates a complex neurological disorder that affects around one in five people globally. A typical migraine is usually characterised by a strong throbbing or pulsating headache, often on one side of the head only. Attacks generally last between four and 72 hours.

It is a disorder that exists on a spectrum, with some sufferers completely disabled by the headaches, while others are able to live fairly normal lives with only the occasional attack.

It is not a temporary condition, or something that will go away. There is no cure for migraine, however in most cases, it can be managed.

People living with migraine are also at an increased risk of several other health conditions, including depression, epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome and asthma.

Now, researchers in Denmark have demonstrated that regular migraines also increases your risk of stroke and heart attack – with the risk much greater for one gender.

Their study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, showed both men and women who suffer migraines have an increased risk of an ischemic stroke.

But the results also showed that women who suffer migraines also have an increased risk of haemorrhagic stroke and heart attack.

Ischemic vs hemorrhagic stroke

An ischemic stroke is the most common form of stroke, and is caused by blocked arteries restricting blood flow to the brain.

A haemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, is rarer and caused by a blood vessel rupturing in the brain. This causes blood to escape the vessel and put pressure on the surrounding brain tissue, causing cell death.

Women at increased risk

For the study, the researchers used Danish medical records collected between 1996 and 2018 involving 18 to 60-year-olds. They identified migraine sufferers based on their prescription medication records.

The researchers then compared the incidences of both types of stroke and heart attack in this group, compared to the general population.

Dr Cecilia Hvitfeldt Fuglsang, lead author of the study, told Medical News Today she suspected a link between migraine and cardiovascular problems.

“I expected that we would find an association between migraine and these events, but I was unsure of whether the association was specific to women,” she says.

“For heart attacks, we cannot rule out that the association exists for males as well. The tricky part is that migraine is less common in men, and this naturally affects the power of the results regarding the males.”

Indeed, women are more than three times more likely to suffer migraines than men, and this could be skewing the results.

Overall risk still low

Dr Fuglsang says although the results are concerning, the overall risk of stroke or heart attack is still low. But the association is still worth noting.

“That being said, I would say that doctors should be aware of the association between migraine and cardiovascular risk – for both men and women,” she said.

“How we may modify this risk is less clear. The main thing that can be done now is to optimise the treatment of any other cardiovascular risk factors and, for instance, encourage smoking cessation.”

Do you suffer from migraines? Have you had any trouble with your heart as a result? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Promising migraine drug may work where others don’t

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