Migraine and Heart Disease: 7 Critical Things to Know Now

by James on 17 September 2010

Another large study was just released confirming the link between migraine and heart disease.  If you have migraine, what do these studies mean for you?  What can you do about it?

Migraine and Heart Disease

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Parin Stormlaughter September 18, 2010 at 7:37 am

Would love to know more about the study itself. The way I read the abstract, the study was questionnaire-based with some clinical findings?

I’d love to know if the people who suffered cardiovascular events had taken migraine medications with known cardiovascular effects prior to their cardio event, say, up to 48 hours prior. Honestly, I wonder if that was even a part of the study?

Thanks for the article.

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Karen Anderson September 30, 2010 at 11:23 am

Thank you for the information. I am home today with a migraine but I was suppose to be at my father-in-laws, who smokes. You have reaffirmed the importance of staying clear of second hand smoke.

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Anna Fitzgerald December 16, 2010 at 4:26 am

The article says in point 6 ‘avoid legal drugs’. Should I be refusing antibiotics prescribed by my GP? Should I refuse over-the-counter medicines for cold, flu, and migraine? Please can this be clarified.

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James December 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Hi Anna-

Yeah, that should say ILLegal drugs! Thanks for catching that! Sorry for the confusion. Obviously, there are some LEGAL drugs as well that can be a problem. Your doctor needs to be aware if you are at a high risk for heart disease – then she will be able to help you decide what drugs to take and what drugs NOT to take.

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Nancy April 21, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I’ve been reading about Brain Diabetis whether you have diabetis or not. (Sorry I can’t spell of Diabetis, I do not have this). Doctors do not know what to do with me yet? Mini strokes are part of the problem, too.

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Nancy April 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Migraines and especially Ocular Migraines are the main problem along with the mini strokes.

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