The most recent study was a large one, published last month in the online British Medical Journal. And it focused on mortality. People who suffer from migraine with aura do seem to be at an increased risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.
And this isn’t the first time this link has been seen. In 2006 we talked about a study suggesting that men with migraine were at increased risk of heart disease, including heart attack. Another 2006 study again indicated migraine with aura being a risk factor for a “event” related to cardiovascular disease. More information has surfaced this year confirming the connection, and researchers are working to find out why the link is so strong.
So what difference does this make to you as a migraine patient? Here are 6 critical things you need to know:
- Your risk from migraine, even migraine with aura, is still fairly low. There is no information to suggest that your risk skyrockets because you have migraine – it only increases your risk. This means that you need to be just as concerned about other risk factors, and make sure you’re eating healthy, getting exercise, and getting regular checkups.
- Migraine is serious. That being said, this is only another reason that migraine is a serious disease. You need to treat migraine, properly, not just put up with it. Though we don’t know how much it will help your cardiovascular health to halt or slow your migraine attacks, it is part of the big picture.
- Don’t panic every time you get an attack. This link does not mean that a specific migraine attack will lead to a stroke or heart attack. Migraine has an impact on your whole life, not just those times when you’re having an attack. People with migraine are generally different physiologically and genetically. Though there has been a rare link between ongoing, severe migraine and cardiovascular events, it’s very rare. And if you’re having unusual or worse-than-normal migraine symptoms, you should see a doctor right away anyway.
- Watch for symptoms. Do watch for symptoms of both migraine and heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and so on. For headache/migraine – any time you have changed symptoms, new symptoms, or worst-ever symptoms, you need to see your doctor right away. For heart disease, here’s a great place to start – Symptoms of Heart Disease and Stroke Symptoms.
- Make sure your doctor knows your medical history. Risk factors for stroke and heart disease – including migraine – can add up. If your only risk factor were migraine, it might not ever be a problem. But what if you also have a strong family history, and you smoke? Then your doctor (not knowing about these risk factors) prescribes a medication that further increases your risk? Make sure your doctor has the information she needs!
- Lower your risk. Yes, this is added motivation to lower your risk – keep your weight at a healthy level, be active, eat well, avoid smoking and second-hand smoke, avoid illegal drugs – and have your migraine treated properly, by a specialist.
- Hope! There’s actually good news in all this. The link is being researched, and we’re learning new things about both migraine and cardiovascular health. This also means we’re learning about treatments – how to better use the treatments available to us, and how to develop better ones. Far from being a reason to panic, this can be another reason to fight migraine and believe the battle can be won.