Migraines Linked to Fatal Cardiovascular Disease

Migraine headaches up risk of cardiovascular disease and death, studies show.

ByABC News
August 24, 2010, 5:08 PM

Aug. 25, 2010— -- People who suffer from migraine headaches face heightened long-term risks of cardiovascular disease and death, according to two large studies.

In one study, people who got migraine headaches with aura -- visual disturbances that accompany the painful headaches in nearly a third of all migraine sufferers -- were at a 27 percent higher risk for cardiovascular mortality compared with people who did not get migraines, Larus Gudmundsson, of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, and colleagues reported online in BMJ.

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Migraine sufferers were 22 percent more likely to die from coronary heart disease and 30 percent more likely to die from stroke compared to people without migraines, the researchers reported.

Gudmundsson and colleagues analyzed data from the Reykjavik Study, which was a population-based study of cardiovascular disease established in 1967. The study included 18,725 men and women born between 1907 and 1935 whose average age at study entry was 52.8.

Overall, 11 percent of people experienced migraines and eight percent also had aura. Women were affected more commonly, with 15 percent having migraines compared to only six percent of men.

In the second study, also published online in BMJ, Dr. Tobias Kurth, of Harvard University in Boston and UPMC University in Paris, and colleagues found that women with active migrainse and aura had more than double the risk for hemorrhagic stroke compared to those without migraines.

A potential explanation for these findings, according to Gudmundsson and colleagues, is that migraine headaches might represent a systemic disorder of the vasculature, with heightened vascular reactivity even in early adulthood.

"Migraine with aura is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular and all cause mortality in men and women but weaker than major established risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure," the researchers wrote.