Women Who Suffer Migraines Have An Increased Risk Of Heart Disease, Study Finds

Anyone concerned should talk to their GP.

01/06/2016 10:19

Women who suffer from migraines may have an increased risk of developing heart disease and experiencing a heart attack or stroke later in life, experts have warned.

A team of US and German researchers analysed data from more than 115,000 women enrolled in a study of nurses' health.

Of these, almost 18,000 of the nurses were diagnosed as suffering from migraines when they were initially examined.

By the end of the 20-year study, those who experienced migraines were found to have a 50% increased risk of heart-related health problems. 

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The participants, who were aged 25-42 years, were all free from angina (chest pain) and cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.

The researchers then tracked the women's health from 1989-2011, taking note of any cardiovascular events, diseases and mortality.

Over 20 years of follow-up, a total of 1,329 cases of cardiovascular disease occurred and 223 women died due to cardiovascular disease.

When compared to women who did not have migraines, the results showed that women who experienced migraines had a greater risk for major cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, strokes and angina.

These associations remained after adjusting for other factors that may have increased the risk for these diseases, including age, smoking status, postmenopausal hormone therapy and oral contraceptive use. 

The results add to evidence that migraines should be considered an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease, the experts said.

But they acknowledged that more research is needed to determine possible causes of heart disease and whether treatments to prevent migraines could help to reduce these associated risks.

In a linked editorial, Rebecca Burch from Harvard Medical School and Melissa Rayhill from The State University of New York at Buffalo caution that "the magnitude of the risk should not be over-emphasised," as "it is small at the level of the individual patient, but still important at a population level because migraine is so prevalent". 

"It’s time to add migraine to the list of early life medical conditions that are markers for later life cardiovascular risk," they said.

 Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation commented: "This large study of young women over a number of years, shows an association between migraine and an increased risk of developing  cardiovascular disease.

“However, further research is needed to establish a possible cause for this and also to determine if the findings apply to men and older age groups. If anyone who experiences migraines is concerned they should discuss this further with their GP who can determine if a heart health check is required.”

The study is published in full in the British Medical Journal

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