Heart Disease Risks Common in Migraine Sufferers

Hypertension, high cholesterol common in people with migraine

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HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Men and women who suffer from migraines are also likely to have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a new study finds.

A report in the Feb. 22 issue of Neurology concludes that migraine sufferers were more likely to smoke, have parents who had a heart attack or stroke, and have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. However, they were less likely to drink, the researchers said.

"Migraine, particularly migraine with aura, is known to be associated with an increased risk of stroke," said lead author Ann I. Scher, from the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, in Bethesda, Md. "We were interested in looking at whether people with migraine were more likely to have classic risk factors for cardiovascular disease," she added.

Migraine aura comes on in the early stages of the attack and often causes distortions or exaggerations in what a person sees.

In their study, Scher and her team collected data on 5,755 people from the Netherlands, 620 of whom experienced migraine.

"We found that the people with migraine, particularly the people with aura (but not exclusively) did have an increased likelihood of risk factors for cardiovascular disease," Scher said. These included high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In addition, those with migraine were more likely to smoke, but drank less alcohol. "Alcohol is a headache trigger," Scher explained.

Interestingly, those with migraine were more likely to have a parent who developed heart disease at an early age, Scher said. That connection usually involved the "mother for everybody [with migraine], but father for men only," she noted.

Scher is not sure what all these findings mean.

First of all, "there is no direct implication" that migraine is an indicator of a heart attack or stroke, she said. "The curious thing is, why are these people having these risk factors? And what is the role of these risk factors and the risk of migraine, and are they related and does this explain the connection between heart disease and migraine?"

The Maryland researcher speculated that migraine may be "part of the constellation of heart disease in ways that are not clear. People with migraine are more likely to have some of these risk factors and not know it."

However, "There is no evidence that people with migraine are at greater risk of having a heart attack. So it's curious that they seem to have these risk factors," she said.

"The paper raises intriguing questions about the risks of heart disease and migraine, especially migraine with aura," said migraine specialist Dr. Michael Stein, a member of the governing council of the American Council for Headache Education.

However, Stein doesn't think that the connection between migraine and cardiovascular risk factors is predictive of heart disease.

"In my clinical experience, I have seen very few [migraine] patients in whom heart disease has become a major issue," he said. Given the mild coronary vasoconstrictive effects of the triptans, which have been used worldwide for treatment of migraine for the last 10 or more years, I don't believe there has been a major increase in coronary artery events seen in migraineurs."

More information

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke can tell you more about migraine.

SOURCES: Ann I. Scher, Ph.D., Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md.; Michael Stein, M.D., Headache Clinic of the East Bay, Walnut Creek, Calif.; Feb. 22, 2005, Neurology

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