If you suffer from migraines you may want to make sure your doctor pays close attention to your cardiac health, as well. A new study finds migraine sufferers are twice as likely to have heart attacks as people who don't suffer from these debilitating headaches.The research, published in the online issue of Neurology, also found that migraine sufferers face increased risk of stroke and were more likely to have key risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Senior author of the study Richard B. Lipton, M.D., professor and vice chair in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, says, “Migraine has been viewed as a painful condition that affects quality of life, but not as a threat to people’s overall health. He added, “Our study suggests that migraine is not an isolated disorder and that, when caring for people with migraine, we should also be attentive to detecting and treating their cardiovascular risk factors.”
According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 29 million Americans suffer from migraines, yet only 48% who have the symptoms receive proper diagnosis. (Click here for more.) There are two major forms, migraine without aura and migraine with aura. Both forms involve pulsing or throbbing pain, pain on one side of the head, nausea or vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound. Migraine with aura has additional neurological symptoms including flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or a graying out of vision. Migraine is most common between the ages of 25 and 55; women are affected three times more frequently than men.
Although previous studies have shown that migraine with aura is associated with heart disease and stroke, this new study finds that both migraine with aura and migraine without aura are risk factors for heart disease and stroke in a broad sample of US people from all walks of life between the ages of 18 and 80.
Results showed that migraine sufferers were about twice as likely to have had a heart attack compared with people without migraine (4.1 percent of people with migraine compared with 1.9 percent of those without migraine). The heart-attack risk was higher for those whose migraine is accompanied by aura: a three-fold greater risk compared with people who didn’t suffer migraine.
The data also shows that people with migraine were about 50 percent more likely than controls to have diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol, all well-known cardiovascular risk factors. The study found that these risk factors may contribute – but do not fully explain – the increased risk of heart attack and stroke in persons with migraine.
“Migraine sufferers should not be alarmed by our findings,” said Dr. Lipton. “While we found an increased risk for cardiovascular problems, the percentage of people actually affected remains small. Overall, for example, only 4.1 percent of migraine sufferers had heart attacks. And while the risk of stroke was 60 percent higher for migraine sufferers than for the rest of the population, the percentage of migraine sufferers experiencing strokes was still quite low – 2 percent.”
The main message of the study, said Dr. Lipton, is that migraine patients and their doctors should be particularly attentive to identifying and managing cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes.
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