Migraine, heart disease, and stroke

You've probably seen lots of lists of risk factors for heart disease and strokes. High blood pressure, being overweight, not exercising, using tobacco products, and having a high cholesterol or diabetes are all important factors that increase your risk for vascular disease. Many studies have shown that having migraine—particularly migraine with aura—increases your risk for heart disease or stroke:

  • Two studies published in the British Medical Journal in 2009 and the American Journal of Medicine in 2010 showed stroke risk was doubled in people with migraine, especially with migraine with aura
  • A study published in the journal Neurology in 2010 reported migraine was linked to a 1½ times risk for stroke and twice the risk for heart attacks
  • New studies being presented at the American Academy of Neurology meeting this March will likewise link migraine with aura with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots

Before you feel totally discouraged by these reports—there's more to the story than just having a risk factor you can't do anything about. I think the more important information from these studies is what else they found linked to migraines. Studies show that migraineurs have a higher risk for having other risk factors that are strongly linked to heart disease. The risk for these other factors is highest among people with migraine with aura, but is also found in people with migraine without aura. Here are examples from two studies:

  • The Neurology 2010 study described above found:
    • 13 percent of people with migraine have diabetes compared with 9 percent of those without migraine
    • High blood pressure occurs in 33 percent with migraine and 28 percent without migraine
    • High cholesterol is found in 33 percent with migraine and 26 percent without
    • In summary, people with migraine are 40 percent more likely to have diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol
  • A new study that will be be published later this year in the journal Cephalalgia likewise found more heart disease risk factors among migraineurs:
    • 6 percent of people with migraine had diabetes versus 3 percent without migraine
    • 49 percent with migraine with aura and 41 percent with migraine without aura smoked compared with 31 percent of people without migraines
    • High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol -- the "good" cholesterol -- was significantly lower among those with migraine with aura compared with those without migraine

These studies teach us several important things:

Knowing you have migraine can be the added push you need to keep you motivated to stay heart healthy.

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