WEDNESDAY, Nov. 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Men who suffer from migraine headaches appear to be at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, mostly due to a higher risk of having a heart attack, researchers report.
But the advice to men with or without migraines is the same, experts say: Pay attention to heart risk factors such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol.
"Migraine has been associated with major risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as hypertension and elevated cholesterol, so patients with migraine should focus on traditional risk factors until we understand why migraine is linked with cardiovascular disease," said study author Dr. Tobias Kurth, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.
Kurth presented his findings Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA), in Chicago.
"Migraine is not so much a risk factor, but a sort of risk marker," added Dr. Gerald Fletcher, AHA spokesman and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Fla. "This should alert physicians and the public that this could be a problem."
This is only the second study to find a correlation between migraine and heart disease. Previous research by the same team of investigators found an association in women who experienced migraines with "aura," or visual disturbances preceding the attack.
This time, the researchers followed more than 20,000 men participating in the Physicians' Health Study, all of whom were free of heart disease at the beginning of the study.
Over the next 15.7 years, 7.2 percent of participants reported having migraines.
Compared with men who did not report migraines, migraine sufferers had a 42 percent increased risk of heart attack, the study found. This was similar to the relative risk found in the study of women.
Overall, men with migraines were at 24 percent increased risk of major cardiovascular events, with heart attacks being the leading reported problem.
"This translated into an additional risk of two major events per 10,000 men per year," Kurth said. "The absolute risk increase is rather on the low side."
Men with migraine had a 12 percent increased risk of ischemic stroke and a 7 percent increased risk of cardiovascular death. However, the authors said neither figure was statistically significant, meaning it could have occurred by chance.
Also, the average age of the participants was 56, so the findings cannot be extrapolated to younger men. In general, migraines occur more frequently among younger people.
The researchers had no information on migraine aura in these men, so it's unclear if the findings are restricted to that type of migraine or not.
Other questions remain.
"We don't know what the possible mechanisms are," Kurth said. "Migraine is associated with other risk factors such as hypertension and cholesterol, and there is an association between migraine and inflammatory markers. Whether these factors really cause the association is unknown at this point."
"Until we know more, the things that should be considered are major [heart] risk factors," he continued. "If you have this marker for increased risk and you have other risk factors, those should be modified and treated."
There's more on migraine at the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.