Migraine-sufferers could be more susceptible to heart problems including heart attacks, stroke, blood clots and an irregular heart rate, according to a new study published in The BMJ.
The study’s authors said the findings suggest that “migraine should be considered a potent and persistent risk factor for most cardiovascular diseases in both men and women”.
Roughly one billion people worldwide are affected by migraine. Here in the UK, it affects one in five females and one in 15 males. It is thought women are affected more due to hormonal changes.
Previous studies have suggested a link between migraine, stroke and heart attacks - particularly among women - but the link between migraine and other heart problems are less well known.
To look into this further, researchers from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and Stanford University in the USA set out to examine the risks of heart conditions in people who experienced migraines compared with those who didn’t.
They collected data from the Danish National Patient Registry over a 19-year period and compared data from over 51,000 people who had been diagnosed with migraine and over 510,000 people who were migraine-free.
The average age for migraine diagnosis was 35 years and 71% of participants were women. Over a period of 19 years, the researchers found that migraine was positively associated with heart attack, stroke, blood clots and irregular heart rate.
For every 1,000 patients, 25 patients with migraine had a heart attack compared with 17 migraine-free patients. Similarly, 45 patients with migraine had an ischaemic stroke (blood clot in the brain) compared with 25 migraine-free patients.
The associations, particularly for stroke, were stronger in the first year of diagnosis in patients with migraine aura (warning signs before a migraine, such as seeing flashing lights) and in women.
In a linked editorial, Professor Tobias Kurth and colleagues argued: “We now have plenty of evidence that migraine should be taken seriously as a strong cardiovascular risk marker.” They added: “Action to reduce risk is long overdue. Unfortunately, funding for migraine research has been seriously neglected.”
They called on public research agencies to “act quickly by investing in prospective studies to accomplish this goal”.
In response to the study, Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told HuffPost UK: “We know that, in women, there is already an association between migraines and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. So these findings, which suggest this link could be extended to men, as well as to other conditions like irregular heartbeats, provides an interesting new observation.
“However more research would be needed to determine any firm conclusions around cause and effect as other factors, like how physically active participants were, could have come into play.
“If anyone who experiences migraine is concerned they should discuss this further with their GP.”