People have been suffering from migraines, strokes, and heart disease, including heart attack, for centuries. Yet, medical researchers have only recently identified a possible link between the intense, often debilitating pain of migraine headaches and the latter two diseases. And women of all ages seem to be especially vulnerable.
There’s a lot of interest in this field of study, and even though certain revelations have come to light over the years, the nature of the relationship between complex migraines, strokes, and cardiovascular disease is still murky at best.
Here’s what we do know, though.
Statistics show that women are nearly three times more likely than men to suffer from complex migraines. How these migraines are directly or indirectly related to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke could depend on specific health factors and lifestyle choices such as smoking and taking oral contraceptives.
But, if the data from a 22-year study are any concrete indication, then it’s clear that there’s an obvious relationship that needs further investigation.
Link Between Heart Attack, Stroke and Migraines in Women
A team of German and American researchers examined figures from the US Nurses’ Health Study II, which recruited over 115,500 women between the ages of 25 and 42 in 1989. Of this group, 17, 531 of them had previously been diagnosed with migraines by their physicians and all were free of cardiovascular disease.
By 2011, researchers found that the women who’d been diagnosed with migraines were 50% more likely to develop some form of cardiovascular event (such as a heart attack or stroke) in their lifetime. Women who were diagnosed with migraines were also 62% more likely to suffer a stroke than women who didn’t suffer from migraines. Throughout the 22 years of follow up, 1,329 cardiovascular events occurred, and 223 women died from cardiovascular disease.
Migraine: Important Warning Sign for Cardiovascular Disease
Professor Tobias Kurth, lead researcher and head of the Institute of Public Health at Charité—Universitätsmedizin Berlin (a learning hospital), concluded in the 2016 paper that “migraines should be considered an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease, particularly in women.”
So the main takeaway today is that, if you suffer from migraines, it’s even more important to talk to your doctor about your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. And about what steps you can take to reduce your risk. Especially if you’re a woman.
Dealing with Your Migraines
When it comes to migraines themselves, unfortunately, researchers have yet to develop a permanent cure or solution, although there are countless drugs on the market today. And, of course, there natural and alternative remedies as well, such as butterbur, caffeine, gingerroot, and acupuncture.
Another barrier is that there are far too many different types of migraines to list here, and they each have varying sets of symptoms that go along with them. The best thing you can do is keep track of your migraines by either recording each episode on a piece of paper or using one of the many mobile apps that are currently available. Be as detailed as possible by including possible triggers (i.e. scents, food, dehydration, etc.), symptoms, whether you sensed the migraine was coming, and any other potentially important details you can think of.
Do this over an extended period of time every time you feel yourself getting a migraine. Then, show the results to your doctor. They should be able to help you determine the nature of your migraines and prescribe appropriate treatment options or medications to help you get some relief. Just keep in mind that not all medications and standard or natural treatment options work the same way for everyone. Some might even worsen your symptoms.
There is still much work to be done, but science is getting closer to unlocking the mystery of migraines. In the meantime, be vigilant of your unique symptoms, and eventually, you’ll be able to find a relief method that works for you.
“Stroke and Migraine,” The Migraine Trust; https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/stroke-migraine/, last accessed May 3, 2017.
Underwood, E., “Feature: Will Antibodies Finally Put an End to Migraines?” Science, January 7, 2016; http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/feature-will-antibodies-finally-put-end-migraines, last accessed May 3, 2017.
“Migraine as a risk factor for stroke, heart attack,” ScienceDaily, June 14, 2016; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160614114447.htm, last accessed May 3, 2017.
Kurth, T., et al., “Migraine and Stroke,” Stroke, November 26, 2012; http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/43/12/3421.full; last accessed May 3, 2017.